Janet Hargrave, one of only 1,074 female pilots who earned their wings as members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a group that flew noncombat missions across the United States during World War II, has died. She was 84.
Hargrave died Jan. 4 at her home in Malibu after a series of strokes, according to Pauline Greene, a longtime friend.
Starting in 1942, some 25,000 women volunteered to go through WASP training. Only 1,830 were accepted, and nearly half did not graduate.
The group’s seven-month preparation time included a physical regimen that was the same as the one for male Army Air Forces cadets. The women also took courses in pilot navigation, meteorology, mathematics and physics.
Those who graduated became military pilots, transporting personnel and hauling cargo in Army Air Forces aircraft. By filling these noncombat jobs, the women freed up male pilots for combat duty.
In 1943, WASP merged with the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, a group of 30 women who were highly experienced pilots that did not go through the military’s basic training that was required of WASP pilots. WASP, which was disbanded in December 1944, lost 38 of its members in the course of duty.
Because WASP operated under the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the women did not qualify for military status or benefits. That changed in 1977 when, after years of lobbying, the women finally were recognized for completing military service and allowed to apply for veterans’ benefits.
“The women in WASP left that experience and went on with their lives,” said Nancy Parrish, whose mother, Deanie, was in WASP and who launched a website for WASP in 1996 (www.wasp-wwii.org).
“From then on, they believed they could do anything. They were great role models for their family and for future generations. That was their legacy.”
Hargrave, who entered the program in 1943, was born in Oregon and raised in Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in social studies in 1942.
After the war, she operated a flight school in Nashville for several years before she settled in Southern California. She was a social worker for Los Angeles County and later joined her father in his business, Palmer Hargrave Lamps.
In 1955, she bought land in Malibu and built a house where she lived with her dogs, cats and the occasional rescued bird. She also kept a horse for many years.
When her father died in 1978, Hargrave took over their lamp business, which she sold after 23 years.
Physically strong until the last months of her life, she traveled extensively after she retired. Last year she went to Machu Picchu, Peru, and climbed to the mountaintop city, once an Incan community.
She remained a member of the WASP network and attended meetings. With her death, there are about 400 living members. The youngest are in their 80s.
Hargrave is survived by a sister, Marian, of Palm Springs.
A memorial service in her honor is planned for 2 p.m. today. For details, call (310) 457-2264.