Women Behind the Wings

“We leave our wings with Val and we carry her with us in the sky”

About the Wings for Val Exhibit

At Val’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in June 2013, several of her aviator friends who could not be there in person came up with the idea of sending in their coveted pilot wings as a symbol of their presence. Word spread quickly and within a week, nearly 200 sets of wings from all over the world were collected and presented to the Cappelaere family. The wings came from friends and total strangers spanning the ranks of all branches of service– a powerful illustration of their fierce dedication to each other and the special bond connecting women military aviators of the past to the present and future. All wanted to show their support for Val’s service and sacrifice, honor the bond of women military aviators, and celebrate the strength they give each other.

When fellow female aviators presented the wings to Valerie’s family at the funeral, they said, “There are not many women in military aviation. As the youngest generation of junior officers, we understand our success depends on the support we give each other. To be successful as a minority we must not only reach forward to seek mentorship, but also reach back to support and inspire those behind us. “Mom” (Valerie’s call sign) understood this better than anyone and was a source of strength to girls both older and younger. Individually, these wings represent amazing personal accomplishment; together, they celebrate the strength we give each other and the collective strength of all female aviators.

This amazing collection of wings was donated to the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery along with many other pieces of memorabilia to create a “Wings for Val” exhibit that showcases the history, strength and solidarity of female military aviators. Experiencing this phenomenon inspired Val’s family to launch the Wings for Val Foundation.

About the Women Behind the Wings

Individually, these wings represent incredible personal accomplishment; and collectively, they symbolize the strength and sisterhood of all female military aviators – past, present and future. We have started the process of reaching back out to the women who donated their wings to better understand the women and meaning behind this powerful collection as a source of inspiration to young women and girls. More coming soon!

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