Gone West: Bay Area Native Maggie Gee, former WASP

Maggie GeeWASP 44-W-9

Maggie Gee
WASP 44-W-9

This past Friday, February 1, 2013, the aviation community lost a treasured pilot.  Margaret “Maggie” Gee, a former WASP, passed away on Friday, February 1, at the age of eighty-nine.  A truly unique individual, Maggie served as only one of two Chinese-American women pilots during WWII.

Hazel Ying LeeWASP, 43-W-4

Hazel Ying Lee
WASP, 43-W-4

Born Gee Mei Gue on August 5, 1923 in Berkeley, California, Maggie was the daughter of a successful Chinese importer and first generation Chinese-American.  Her maternal grandparents had immigrated to the United States to escape the Taiping Revolution.  They had settled in San Francisco’s Chinatown where Maggie’s parents met and married.  Due to her father’s wishes to not raise his children in Chinatown, the family moved to Berkeley prior to Maggie being born.

Maggie always looked to the skies while she was growing up.  She recalled her childhood, “When I was a young girl, the Oakland airport just opened and going [there] was something you’d do on Sundays to watch planes take off.  Amelia Earhart was a heroine at the time. You don’t even think about danger when you’re young. You think you’re invincible.”

When the United States entered the war, Maggie quickly volunteered for service.  She left during her first year of college to work as a draftsman at Mare Island Naval Shipyards located in Vallejo.  However, her desire was to fly for the WASPs.  Known as the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and later the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), these aviatrixes aided the war effort by relieving male pilots of their peacetime duties for combat operations.  A prerequisite to apply to such a program included a pilot’s license.   Once Maggie saved enough money, she moved to Mindon, Nevada where she could become certified in military aircraft.  Six months, fifty hours of flight time, and $800 later she earned her license.  Upon applying to the WASP training program, Maggie was accepted into class 44-W-9.  Of the 107 women in the class, Maggie and fifty-four of her colleagues earned their wings on November 8, 1944.  Her assignment transferred her to Las Vegas Army Air Field where she served as a tow target pilot for flexible gunnery training for male cadets.  This remained her duty station until the WASPs were disbanded on December 20, 1944.

After the war, Maggie returned to U.C. Berkeley where she completed her degree in physics.  She went on to a career as a physicist and researcher of nuclear weapons design, fusion energy, and other related fields.  A lesson to take from Maggie, “I learned from the flying experience that if there’s something you really want to do, pursue it,” Gee attests. “I wouldn’t listen to others that say you can’t do it. I would consider it a bigger challenge.”  Blue skies Maggie and may your legacy be forever influential to women in aviation.

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