An “Often Formidable Sting”: Chinese-American Female Aviators in the WASP during World War II

Claudia Vinci Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Zachary Scarlett Butler University
Pearl Harbor was one of the most shocking, devastating events in American military history. However, out of this tragedy, opportunities arose for Chinese-American men and women upon the entry of the United States into World War II. For Chinese-American women, Pearl Harbor marked a pivotal transition as they were finally recruited by the United States military. Furthermore, more generally, American women expanded their noncombat roles and Asian-Americans, including thousands of Japanese-Americans, served in a number of capacities. I explore the related experiences of Hazel Ying Lee (1912-1944) and Maggie Gee (1923-2013), the only two Chinese-American Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Lee and Gee dealt with and observed the effects of racist legal discrimination, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the asymmetrical experiences of Chinese versus Japanese-Americans. I analyze these themes within the scope of the evolving Sino-American relations before and during the war. Where hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, Chinese-Americans were able to purposefully bring attention to their own racial identities to display their loyalty to the United States. Additionally, Chinese-American women were also given a new method of proving their loyalty to the United States as they were given the chance to serve in the military. In An “Often Formidable Sting”, I include Lee and Gee as case studies of these experiences. I conducted archival research in order to utilize a variety of primary sources, such as oral histories and newspapers, to center the experiences of Chinese-American WASPs in World War II history.
Oral Presentation