Margaret (Peg) Kirchner Stevenson belonged to an exclusive group of World War II veterans. She was a WASP-a member of the legendary Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
eg was born September 12, 1920, in Youngstown, Ohio. She graduated from Youngstown University and also received her pilot’s license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program.
After Pearl Harbor, it became obvious that there were not enough pilots to fill the jobs the all-male Army Air Force had to do. Women pilots stepped forward. They were experienced, ready and willing to help. It seemed like a solution: women could take over non-combat jobs, especially ferrying planes from factories to military bases. Each WASP could free up a male pilot for combat duty. However, the Air Force brass and the War Department weren’t buying it. They didn’t trust women to do the job.
Others disagreed. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote “We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots in this particular case are a weapon waiting to be used.” Finally in 1943, the powers-that-be relented. They would “see if women could fly the military way.” 25,000 women volunteered to join the new organization. Fewer than 1900 were accepted and only 1074 made it through training. They went through the same training as male pilots except they weren’t trained for combat. WASPS had an average of 1400 flying hours and had commercial pilots’ rating.
During the war WASPs flew over 60 million miles to deliver 12,650 aircraft of 78 types. They successfully flew every type of plane in America’s arsenal. Army Air Force General “Hap” Arnold became an enthusiastic supporter of the program.
Peg had an even more challenging job. After basic training, she was one of only seventeen selected for B-17 (Flying Fortress) training. Thirteen women graduated from B-17 Transition Flight Training at Lockbourne AAF Base.
Then Peg was only one of four WASPS selected for the B-17 Instructors Course. Completing that, she served as a B-17 test pilot for the flight engineering program and instructed cadets in meteorology and navigation.
The four were the first women to fly the compressurized bomber above 25,000 feet. Russian female pilots beat that record but the WASPs retook the record at 30,000 and again at 32,000 feet.
Although the WASPs completed identical training and assignments as their male counterparts, they were never granted military status or recognition. After the war, the WASP was quietly disbanded. All records were sealed and classified for 35 years. They received no military benefits. 38 WASPs had given their lives but it was strictly forbidden to even put flags on their coffins. Despite her outstanding record, Peg couldn’t find employment in aviation.
Characteristically, she refocused and moved forward. She moved to Michigan, married and became the mother of four children; Sue Ann, Sandy, Joann and Thomas.
In 1955, a single parent, she became a teacher and spent 30 years with the Saginaw School District. She got her masters degree in education from Central Michigan University. She taught in elementary schools and then was a reading specialist, an adult education director and served as principal of the Germania, North, South, Longfellow and Zilwaukee elementary schools.
Finally, in 1977, the WASPs fought “The Battle of Congress” with the help of Arnold’s son, Col. Bruce Arnold and Senator Barry Goldwater, who had also been a ferry pilot. Congress finally authorized veteran status to the women. Peg got her honorable discharge certificate in May of 1979, qualifying her for long overdue veterans’ benefits. In 1984, she was awarded the World War II Victory Medal and the American Theater Ribbon/American Campaign Medal.
On March 10, 2010, WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in appreciation of their distinguished achievements. It came too late for Peg but her son Tom proudly accepted the medal honoring his mother.
She had died on July 12, 1998.
The photo shows Peg Kirchner Stevenson (second from left) with WASP colleagues in front of their B-17 “Pistol Packin’ Mama.”
Copyright © 2018 Saginaw County Hall of Fame - All Rights Reserved.