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Hazel Ying Lee

Lee began flying lessons and enrolled in a flying program supported by the Portland Chinese Benevolent Society. In October 1932, she earned her pilot’s license, becoming one of the first Chinese American women to do so. In 1942, Lee applied for WASP and was accepted into the training class 43-W-4, making her the first of two Chinese American women accepted into the program.

In November 1944, Lee was given orders to pick up a P-63 Kingcobra from the Bell Aircraft factory in Niagara Falls, New York, and fly it to Great Falls, Montana. Another group of P-63s was incoming, being flown by WASP and male US Army Air Forces pilots. One of those pilots, Jeff Russell, had been without a working radio for several days. As Lee began a long, slow approach to the runway, Russell was above her, also attempting to land. Someone in the control tower noticed the two aircraft too close and yelled, “pull up!” not remembering which pilot did not have a radio. Lee heard the order, Russell did not. She pulled her aircraft up, and with no time to react and correct, hit Russell’s plane. Both aircraft crashed at the end of the runway, bursting into flames. Pilots on the ground ran over to the wreck, pulling Russell out. Lee’s aircraft was on fire and she was trapped, burning badly. Ground crew were able to pull her from the aircraft, but her burns were too severe. Hazel Ah Ying Lee died November 25, 1944, the 38th and final WASP to die in the line of duty. She was 32 years old.

Three days after news of Lee’s death reached her family in Portland, the Lee family received word that her brother Victor, who was with the US Army in France, had been killed in action. The family prepared to bury two of their children in a cemetery in Portland. To the family’s anguish, the cemetery staff informed them that Hazel and Victor could not be buried in the “white” section of the cemetery. War hero status meant nothing in the face of anti-Chinese sentiment. The Lee family fought back, and were able to bury the siblings side by side in River View Cemetery.


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