Overlooked No More: When Hazel Ying Lee and Maggie Gee Soared the Skies



via Wings Across America

Overlooked is a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times. This latest installment is from “Beyond the World War II We Know,” a series by The Times that documents lesser-known stories from the war.


They never met, but their early lives ran a strikingly similar course. They were both Chinese-American women who thwarted layers of prejudice and preconception to become World War II pilots. One died young, while transporting a fighter plane. The other lived to 89 and went on to become a scientist.


Their names were Hazel Ying Lee and Maggie Gee, and they were WASPs, or Women Airforce Service Pilots.

她们的名字是李月英(Hazel Ying Lee)和朱美娇(Maggie Gee),她们是妇女空军服务飞行队(Women Airforce Service Pilots,简称WASP)的成员。

In 1942, as the Air Force faced a dearth of male pilots to sustain the war effort at home, the pilot Jacqueline Cochran persuaded the chief of the U.S. Army Air Force to recruit female pilots. More than 25,000 women applied. Only 1,830 were accepted into flight training. Of those, 1,074 completed the training.

1942年,美国空军面临男飞行员短缺的局面,无法满足国内的战争需要,飞行员杰奎琳·科克伦(Jacqueline Cochran)说服美国陆军航空军司令招募女飞行员。超过2.5万名女性申请。只有1830人被录取接受飞行训练。其中有1074人完成培训。

For two years, these pilots flew nearly every type of aircraft. Their principal job was to ferry planes between bases. They also tested new planes, trained male pilots and flew damaged planes back to base for repair. They traveled in inclement weather and landed on unlighted runways at night. Thirty-eight of the women died in service.


Gee, a third-generation Chinese American, was born Gee Mei Gue on Aug. 5, 1923, in Berkeley, Calif., one of six children. Her mother was Jung An Yoke, whose parents moved to California from a village in Guangzhou, China, in the 1870s. Her grandfather, Jung Sun Choy, settled on the Monterey Peninsula south of San Francisco and became a pioneer in the abalone business.

朱美娇是第三代华裔美国人,1923年8月5日生于加州伯克利,有五个兄弟姊妹。她的母亲名叫荣安玉(Jung An Yoke,音),其父母于1870年代从中国广州的一个村庄移民加州。她的外祖父荣生财(Jung Sun Choy,音)在旧金山以南的蒙特雷半岛定居,并成为鲍鱼经销行业的一位先驱人物。

The family moved to San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1906, then to Berkeley.


The year after Gee was born, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted immigration from Asia. Animosity toward the Chinese was growing, and the sentiments sometimes pervaded Gee’s childhood.


She found a haven in the family’s Sunday outings to the Oakland airport to watch planes take off. “I loved how the vibrations echoed in my bones,” she told Marissa Moss, a children’s book author who wrote about Gee in “Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee” (2009). “Just being there, being part of it all, made me feel big and powerful.”

周日全家去往奥克兰机场看飞机起飞的活动,给她带去了慰藉。“我喜欢那种钻进骨头里的震颤,”她对儿童读物作家玛丽莎·莫斯(Marissa Moss)说,后者的《高空——朱美娇的真实故事》(Sky High: the True Story of Maggie Gee)一书于2009年出版。“光是待在那里,成为这一切的一部分,就让我觉得自己很强大。”

Gee would scan the skies for Amelia Earhart, who frequently flew into Oakland. And once, Gee spotted her. “When I waved, she saw me and waved back,” Gee said.

朱美娇会仰望天空,寻找经常飞往奥克兰的阿米莉亚·埃尔哈特(Amelia Earhart)。有一次,朱美娇看到了她。“我向她挥手,她看见了我,也向我挥手,”朱美娇说。

In 1941, when she was 18, Gee enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, to study physics, but she dropped out a few months later when the United States entered World War II to work at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, in Vallejo, Calif., near San Francisco. Her mother was a welder there, and Gee worked in the drafting department.


Aviation soon beckoned. Gee and two co-workers pooled their funds, bought a car for $25 and drove to Texas for six months of training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, 40 miles west of Abilene.


“I learned to parachute and make emergency landings, Gee said. “We did the same intense work the male pilots had to do.”


Gee was occasionally mistaken for the Japanese enemy. She knew she stood out. “I felt like an exhibit at the country fair, a two-headed cow, the amazing Chinese-American WASP,” she said.


The only other Chinese-American woman in the program was Lee.


Ah Ying Lee was born on Aug. 25, 1912, in Portland, Ore. Her father, Lee Yuet, was a businessman who owned an import-export business. Her mother, Wong Sau Lan, was a homemaker.

李月英于1912年8月25日出生于俄勒冈州波特兰,父亲李悦(Lee Yuet,音)是一位进出口商。她的母亲黄秀兰(Wong Sau Lan,音)是家庭主妇。

After graduating from high school in 1929, Lee got a job as an elevator operator at H. Liebes & Company, a department store in Portland, where she also did stockroom work.


She joined the Chinese Flying Club of Portland and in 1932 graduated from aviation school with her pilot’s license.


“I think that for Hazel, flying a plane symbolized not just flight but a freedom she didn’t have on the ground,” said Alan Rosenberg, a filmmaker who made “A Brief Flight” (2002), a documentary about Lee.

电影制片人艾伦·罗森伯格(Alan Rosenberg)制作了一部关于李月英的纪录片《短暂的飞行》(A Brief Flight, 2002),他说:“我认为,对于李月英来说,驾驶飞机不仅象征着飞行,还象征着她在地面上所没有的自由。”

In Portland, while learning to fly, she met Louie Yen-chung, a student from China who was training as a cadet. Their romance endured for more than a decade, even with long stretches of time spent miles — sometimes continents — apart.


In 1933, in the buildup to the Second Sino-Japanese war, Lee hoped to fly for the Chinese Air Force. But the Chinese government turned her down, saying women were too “unstable” to fly, her sister Frances Tong told The Portland Oregonian in 2003. Instead, Lee flew commercial and private flights.

1933年,在第二次中日战争前夕,李月英希望效力于中国空军。但是她的姐姐弗朗西斯·唐(Frances Tong,音)在2003年告诉波特兰的《俄勒冈人报》(The Oregonian),中国政府拒绝了她,说女人太过“不稳定”,不适合飞行。李月英转而去驾驶商业和私人航班。

Lee returned to the United States in December 1938, living in New York. She graduated from the WASP training program in 1943 and was sent to Romulus, Mich.


Because WASPs were Civil Service employees and not military personnel, they had to pay for their food and lodging. There were no flight suits for women, and Lee’s frame, at 5’3” and 115 pounds, was overwhelmed by even the smallest of the men’s uniforms.


On Oct. 9, 1943, she married Louie, whom she called “Cliff,” by then a major in the Chinese Air Force. “KNOT TIED TODAY,” she wrote in a telegram to another pilot. “CAVU FOR CLIFF AND ME.” CAVU, an acronym used by pilots, stands for “ceiling and visibility unlimited.”

1943年10月9日,她与雷炎均结婚了,她管他叫“克里夫”,那时他是一名中国空军少校。“今日喜结连理,”她在电报中写给另一位飞行员。“克里夫和我CAVU。”CAVU是飞行员使用的首字母缩写,代表“天空视野无垠”(ceiling and visibility unlimited)。

After their wedding, Louie returned to China, and Lee did not hear from her husband for six months. “She said she was sure that he was either dead or captured,” said Virginia Luttrell Krahn, another WASP, in a 1997 oral history interview.

结婚后,雷炎均回到中国,李月英有六个月没有听到丈夫的消息。另一名女子飞行队员弗吉尼亚·卢特雷尔·克拉恩(Virginia Luttrell Krahn)在1997年的一次口述历史采访中说:“她说她确信他已经死了,或被俘虏了。”

Glimpses of the racial prism through which Lee was viewed are sprinkled through archives maintained at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. Another pilot, for instance, referred to Lee as “the little Chinese girl” in a letter she wrote to family.

从德克萨斯州丹顿市德州女子大学(Texas Woman’s University)保存的档案中,可以瞥见种族棱镜下的李月英。例如,另一位飞行员在给家人的一封信中称李为“那个中国小姑娘”。

Like Gee, Lee was mistaken for Japanese. In her 1997 interview, Krahn said Lee had been flying one day in Texas when her engine failed and she landed in a field. When Lee got out of the plane, “here is this farmer coming at her with a pitchfork,” Krahn recounted.


“He said, ‘The Japs have landed, the Japs have landed.’ And Hazel said, ‘No, I am an American, I am an American,’” Krahn said. “This was too much for these farmers. There was no way that they were going to believe that Hazel was a Chinese, not only a Chinese, but a woman Chinese pilot.”


In recounting the incident that night over dinner in the mess hall, Lee “had the whole line in hysterics,” Krahn added.


Lee was one of 132 pilots chosen to fly so-called “pursuit” planes, now known as fighter aircraft. Among her duties was to fly new Bell P-63 Kingcobra fighters from the manufacturing plant in Buffalo to Great Falls, Mont., for eventual delivery to the Soviet Union.


In November 1944, Lee was on one such mission with a group of pilots on Thanksgiving Day, the first clear day in a while.


Krahn, who also flew that day, recounted the chain of events.


“Shortly after we took off, Jeff moved over close to me and pointed to his earphone and raised his hand,” she said, referring to Jeff Russell, another pilot. “His radio was out.”

“起飞后不久,杰夫飞得离我很近,指着他的耳机,举起了手。”她指的是另一位飞行员杰夫·拉塞尔(Jeff Russell)。她说:“他的无线电坏了。”

The crew stopped in Bismarck, N.D., hoping to have Russell’s radio fixed, but since it was a holiday, they were out of luck; the group continued on to Montana.


“By this time there were so many planes circling at Great Falls and ready to land,” Krahn said. “The air was just filled with P-63’s.”


After landing safely, Krahn saw, to her horror, that at the end of the runway two planes were too close together, one above the other.


“When the tower saw what was happening they said ‘pull up, pull up.’ And the only plane that could hear it was Hazel,” Krahn recalled. “And she pulled up right into Jeff, who heard nothing.”


Both aircraft burst into flames over the runway.


Russell survived with minor injuries. Lee was trapped in her plane and was badly burned. She died two days later, on Nov. 25, 1944. She was 32.


“She was conscious the entire time,” Krahn said. “She never complained. The doctor said they had never seen anyone so brave.”


Lee’s husband, it turned out, was still alive. He died in 1999 in Taipei, Taiwan.


Lee was the 38th — and the last — WASP to die in the line of duty.


The program was disbanded on Dec. 20, 1944, in anticipation of the end of the war, and the pilots faded into the housewifery and child rearing that defined the role of women in the 1950s.


Gee was an exception. She returned to Berkeley, earned a bachelor’s degree in physics, then worked on weapons systems at the Lawrence Livermore Berkeley National Laboratory.

朱美娇是一个例外。她回到伯克利,获得物理学学士学位,然后在劳伦斯·利弗莫尔·伯克利国家实验室(Lawrence Livermore Berkeley National Laboratory)研究武器系统。

“She was that generation of Chinese-American women who broke out of the confines of isolation in the community,” said Harvey Dong, a lecturer in Asian-American and Asian diaspora studies at Berkeley.

伯克利分校的亚裔美国人和亚裔侨民研究讲师哈维·董(Harvey Dong,音)说:“她就是那一代摆脱了社群孤立界限的华裔美国女性。”

Gee died on Feb. 1, 2013. She was 89. Warren Heckrotte, her partner of nearly 50 years, died in 2019.

朱美娇于2013年2月1日去世,享年89岁。和她厮守近50年的伴侣沃伦·赫克罗特(Warren Heckrotte)于2019年去世。

In 1977, after years of fighting for recognition, WASPs were granted veteran status with full benefits. In 2010 around 200 of the surviving pilots were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by President Barack Obama. Gee was one of them.

经过多年的争取,女子飞行队员在1977年被授予退伍军人身份,享受全额津贴。2010年,贝拉克·奥巴马(Barack Obama)总统向大约200名尚在世的飞行员颁发国会金质奖章。朱美娇就是其中之一。