Hazel Ying Lee was one of two Chinese American women accepted into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) when she joined class 43-W-4 in 1943.  

Her flying career had started a decade, and a war, before. Born in Portland, Oregon to parents who had immigrated from China, Lee went to work as an elevator operator to learn money towards flying lessons. In October 1932, thanks to the money saved from her work and support from the Portland Chinese Benevolent Society, Lee earned her pilot’s license. She was one of the first Chinese American women to do so.  

At this time, Japanese and Chinese forces were at war, and Lee traveled to China in hopes of becoming a military pilot there. However, she was denied a pilot job on the basis of her gender, and given a desk job instead. In China, Lee was able to fly for a private airline. By 1938, she returned to the United States, where she supported the Chinese government buying war material in New York.  

When the Jacqueline Cochran’s Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) began seeking applications for women pilots to ferry aircraft, freeing up male pilots for the front, Lee applied. When she was accepted in 1943, the WFTD had merged with the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) creating the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Among the aircraft Lee flew as a WASP were the P-51 Mustang and P-63 Kingcobra. She was one of only 30 WASP to do so.  

Tragically, Lee died in the line of duty, when less than a month before the program was to be disbanded, she collided with another plane while delivering a P-63 to Great Falls, Montana. As the FAA notes, “Of the 1,012 women who [were] in the WASP program 38 died in service. Lee was the last.”