AAPI Heritage Month shows WASP legacy is in good hands with modern Airmen like Col. Janette Thode

  • Published
  • By 459th Air Refueling Public Affairs
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, the 459th Air Refueling Wing would like to recognize an American first! Hazel Ying Lee is first Chinese American woman to earn a pilot’s license and fly for the U.S. military under the Army Air Corps.

Lee, a native of Portland, Oregon, began her military career in 1942 during WWII when she applied for the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which later merged with the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron to become the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.

During the war, Lee and other pursuit pilots delivered more than 5,000 P-63 Kingcobra fighters to Great Falls, Montana, an essential link in supplying Russian allies with planes. Unfortunately, during a routine aircraft transport to Great Falls, a faulty communication between the air traffic controllers caused Lee’s P-63 to collide with another P-63. She was able to land her damaged and burning plane, but she was severely injured. On Nov. 25, 1944, she died of her injuries.

Lee is a hero to many people, and certainly among them is the Wing’s Vice Commander, Col. Janette Thode. Col. Thode, a Chinese American, works with the Wing Commander to ensure the training and readiness of more than 1200 assigned wing personnel in 20 units employing eight KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft here. She’s held leadership positions at Headquarters Air Force, and the senior navigator with over 1,700 B-1 hours has deployed multiple times in support of Operations Allied Force, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom.

The 459th ARW thanks both of you for your service!