The Survival War
Following WWI, the United States attempted to return to a state of isolationism and entered into a series of treaties and agreements intended to prevent the horrors of WWI from ever happening again. Those did not work.
While the war officially began on September 1, 1939 when Germany, led by Adolph Hitler’s Reich, attacked Poland and then continued to crush six other countries in three months, the United States weren’t drawn into the war until Japan, hoping to expand into the Far East, attacked Pearl Harbor, in what was then the Territory of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The U.S. declared war on Japan on Monday after Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday. Then, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. three days later in keeping with their Tri-Partite Pact with Japan.
In Europe, motivated primarily by expansionist policies, the Axis (Germany, Japan, and Italy) battled the Allies (U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union). Initially, the Axis powers gained the upper hand due to weak responses of the European democracies to fascist aggression and American isolationism. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, the U.S., alongside their Allies, invaded northern France by way of beach landings in Normandy. Ultimately, the Allies defeated the Axis powers. Victory in Europe was celebrated on May 8, 1945 when Allies accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces.
While the U.S. pushed the Japanese back across the Pacific, the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima was strategically significant. Ultimately, it took the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an invasion, and imminent Soviet intervention for Japan to surrender. V-J Day marked the victory over Japan for the Allies in WWII August 15, 1945 with a formal ceremony on September 2, 1945.
WWII was the largest armed conflict in human history. It killed more people, cost more money, damaged more property, affected more people, and caused more far-reaching changes in nearly every country than any war in history. It involved more than 50 countries over six continents and all the world’s oceans and the whole world felt its effects. The war brought about the downfall of Western Europe as the center of world power, led to the rise of the U.S.S.R, set up the conditions that led to the Cold War, opened up the nuclear age, ended U.S. isolationism and resulted in the creation of the United Nations. In America, it also ended the Great Depression as both men and women entered defense industries.
There are many famous WWII battles and heroes on all fronts. Planes and pilots of all kind played key roles throughout. Bombs dropped from Japanese planes on Pearl Harbor started our involvement, the V-J kiss celebrated the war’s end (sailor George Mendonsa died 2/18/2019, the day I completed this quilt, at age of 95 and dental hygienist Gretta Zimmer Friedman died in 2016 at age of 92). C-47 airplanes carried D-Day paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne units on their way to the beaches of Normandy where amphibious operations expanded our involvement in the war in Europe and an atomic bomb dropped from the Enola Gay, a B29 Super Fortress, on Hiroshima marked the beginning of the end of the War on Japan. Behind the successes on all fronts were the stateside contributions of the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots).
Each Memorial Day, we honor those who died in active military service. Active service includes both those on the battlefields and those who serve support roles. Thirty-eight WASP died stateside in active service to their country during WWII.
Interestingly, the WASP program began and ended during WWII. It came to an abrupt end in December 1944 after a bitter fight over the possible incorporation of the program into the military.
The legacy of WASP is that they proved women could fly military aircraft. After dissolution, it took more than 30 years of social, cultural, and legal changes to allow American women to train as military pilots. Beginning in 1977, women were allowed to train as military pilots, fly limited aircraft, and had limited flight duties (no combat), and WASP were granted retroactive partial veteran status. Since then, WASP have received acknowledgement and gratitude for their service. In 2009, they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and on January 1st, 2014 several surviving WASP rode in a “flying” float in the annual New Year Day’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA. It was said these fearless women illustrated the theme of that year’s parade, Dreams Come True. While WASP careers were cut short, their dreams came true in the form of today’s fully-vested female military pilots.
In 1942, unsatisfied with the name World War II, President, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the public to propose alternative names. From over 15,000 suggestions, Roosevelt chose “the Survival War”. While the public dismissed the new name, America, and the world, thankfully did survive!
May we never forget the freedoms we continue to enjoy in America are not free! In WWII, our freedoms cost 405,399 American lives.
My Artist Statement
In this quilt it was my goal to tell a condensed story of U.S. involvement in WWII. I included the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the strategically significant raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima, D-Day paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne units on their way to the beaches of Normandy where amphibious operations also marked our entering the war in Europe, the atomic bomb dropped from the Enola Gay on Hiroshima marking the beginning of the end of the War on Japan, and finally the V-J (Victory over Japan) kiss between strangers in New York City’s Times Square (August 14, 1945) which so aptly represented the nation’s celebratory mood at war’s end. Behind the successes on all fronts were the stateside contributions of the WASP.
For this quilt, I chose to highlight the little known contributions of these women in the Army’s Air Force, precursor of the U.S. Air Force, which became a separate service on September 18, 1947. These female WWII pilots, the original Fly Girls, the first women to fly military aircraft, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) qualified for employment as civilian, non-combat pilots of military aircraft and were used stateside by the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII. (Depicted is Pistol Packin’ Mama, Margaret ‘Peg” Kirchner.)
The yellow ribbon shows America’s support of our troops who fought so bravely, and also identifies the years America participated in the war and what it ‘cost’ America to preserve freedom.
Below the yellow ribbon are the colors of our nation’s flag. White represents purity and innocence, perhaps that of the young men that willingly take up arms to defend her. Red signifies the hardiness and valor with which they fight. Stars, painstakingly embroidered with military precision, represent our united states and float in a sea of blue that signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
Researched, designed, pieced, appliqued, embroidered, painted, and free motion quilted by Sue Hickman. Completed 2/20/2019.