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Hazel Ying Lee (R) with fellow pilot Virginia Wong, ca. 1932, Courtesy of Frances M. Tong, Museum of Chinese in American (MOCA) Hazel Ying Lee & Frances M. Tong Collection.
李月英(右)和飞行员Virginia Wong,大约1932年,Frances M. Tong捐赠,美国华人博物馆(MOCA)馆藏

Hazel Ying Lee (1912-1944) was the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military. Born in Portland, Oregon, Lee’s unquenchable thirst for flight began at age 19, when she first rode in a friend’s plane at an airshow. Within a year, she became one of the first Chinese American women to earn a pilot’s license, despite prevailing sexist and anti-Chinese norms. When Japan invaded China in 1933, Lee moved to China to join the Chinese Air Force but was rejected as a female pilot and forced into desk jobs there and upon her return to the States. But in 1943, Lee became one of the first women and one of two Chinese American women (alongside Maggie Gee) to join the groundbreaking Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. While a part of the U.S. military during WWII, the WASPs were classified as civilians and not allowed to see combat, receive military benefits, or be buried in military funerals. Still, they flew critical, dangerous missions as they ferried new aircraft across the States and troubleshot malfunctions straight off the assembly line. Lee also became one of 132 female pilots trained to “fly pursuit,” or fast, high-powered fighters. Lee died in a crash due to control tower error at 32 years old, less than a month before the end of the WASP program. Throughout her career, Lee’s friends and colleagues would describe her as a “calm and fearless,” teaching them about Chinese culture without ever considering her race or gender as she destroyed historical barriers in the pursuit of her dreams. In 1977, the WASP pilots were finally recognized with military status. MOCA’s Hazel Ying Lee & Frances M. Tong Collection, donated by Hazel’s sister Frances M. Tong and filmmaker Alan H. Rosenberg, includes original personal photographs, family letters, documents, newspaper articles, and memorabilia.