Nightly News   |  January 01, 2014

Pioneering WWII Female Pilots Honored

It’s been 70 years since these women served and today they were honored with a float in the Rose Parade. NBC’s Joe Fryer reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight there was a special float today at the annual tournament of roses parade in california. on it were some pioneering women who played an important role as aviators during world war ii but whose trailblazing contributions have often been overlooked. we get the story tonight from nbc's joe fryer.

>> reporter: the rose parade in pasadena, california, is a long ways away from the farm flora reese grew up on during the great depression when she told her father she wanted to fly like the bird this is the sky.

>> he would shake his head and say, that's not something women usually do. if you can figure out how, more power to you.

>> reporter: her dream became a reality during world war ii when male pilots were called to combat overseas leaving women to fill the void at home. you proved them wrong?

>> yes, i proved them wrong. i did get to fly.

>> girls who give a new angle to an air force story.

>> reporter: they were called wasps, women air force service pilots. 25,000 women applied. only 1,000 got their wings including margo demas.

>> i loved every minute of it.

>> reporter: attitudes were tough to change.

>> right away the air force juans to get a little muscle on those pretty arms.

>> the pilots that were training us at first were cool to us. finally they realized we were patriotic, good pilots.

>> reporter: for two years they flew military planes across the u.s. flora bell now knew how it felt to fly.

>> like you are looking at the world god made for us and the beauty you see.

>> reporter: the dream ended with little warning.

>> they came in and said, girls, the men are coming back and want their jobs back. you have to leave.

>> i said, we'll do it for nothing. we don't care about getting paid. we're needed.

>> reporter: three decades would go by before they were granted military status. another three decades bf they received a congressional gold medal . in that time, the wasps paved the way for women like captain linda stanfield to become military pilots.

>> if it wasn't for them i probably wouldn't be doing what i'm doing now sthrks the female pilots of today join the trailblazers of yesterday on a rose parade float dedicated to the wasps, a thank you to women like flora bell who never stopped dreaming about the sky. joe fryer, nbc news, los angeles .