Saving her money for flight lessons, Hazel started training at an airfield on nearby Swan Island and joined the Portland Flying Club (one of two girls). Her mother was opposed to the lessons, but according to a sister, Hazel "enjoyed the danger and doing something that was new to Chinese girls." One year later (1932), Hazel became one of the first Chinese-American women to earn a pilot's license and was eager to put her flying skills to work.
With the Japanese invasion of northern China (1932-1933), Hazel joined other Chinese-Americans in the fight. Thinking she would join the Chinese Air Force, she was promptly turned down (twice) in 1933. Female pilots were not allowed. Instead, she accepted an office job with the military and briefly flew for a private airline. [An interesting aside is Korean Kwon Ki-ok's experience in 1925 as China's first female pilot; see K post]. In 1938, the Japanese launched a full scale attack, and after witnessing the deaths of hundreds of civilians, Hazel was forced to return to the United States.
World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed the playing field for female pilots in the U.S. The demand for male pilots was impossible to meet, and although support by the military command and the media was mixed (opposition was high), the Women Airforce Service Pilots (known as WASP) was formed in 1943. Hazel was among the recruits accepted and became the first Chinese-American woman to fly for the U.S. military. More than one-thousand women would join the WASP. Although under military command in every way, the WASP were classified as civilians and did not receive military benefits. That said, military assignments were less than desirable. Their missions as transport pilots often meant flying in open cockpits in bad weather.
|Hazel (on rt) with other WASP receiving training. |
She flew P-51s, P-47s and P-39s, one of 132
female pilots, selected to "fly pursuit."
|Lifelong friendships were forged. Hazel was known for her sense of humor.|
|Older than most of the WASP, Hazel was considered a leader|
Unfortunately, a second forced landing November 1944 in Great Falls, Montana took Hazel's life. More than 5000 fighters had been delivered to the Great Falls airfield at that juncture in time. It was not an unfamiliar setting. Hazel was in the process of delivering a P-63 (a large group had also arrived to land), but due to radio failure in a second P-63, the control tower directed both planes to land on the same runway simultaneously. The planes collided and Hazel died from burns in the collision two days later.
Thirty-eight women would die before
the disbanding of WASP in December 1944.
Hazel, the first Chinese-American woman
to fly for the U.S. military, was the last to die.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazel_Ying_Lee; http://www.flygirlstheseries.com/blogpage/2016/1/21/114-tbt-throwbackthursdayhttp://www.azquotes.com/author/23671-Hazel_Ying_Lee; http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/lee_hazel_ying/