More than 2000 people have signed a petition to name Oakland International Airport after the late Berkeley resident and Women Airforce Service Pilot, or WASP, Maggie Gee.
Tiffany Miller launched the campaign on Change.org about two weeks ago. It aims to gain 2,500 signatures and has about 2,159 as of press time.
Miller initially thought of the idea of renaming the airport after her grandmother, Elaine Harmon — who served as a WASP alongside Gee — died in 2015 and was denied burial in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. After Miller and her family lobbied the U.S. Congress, legislation was passed to ensure that all WASPs had a right to be laid to rest at Arlington.
“As part of that (campaign), I did quite a bit of research on women in aviation,” Miller said in an email. “I discovered that there is an airport in Istanbul named for the first female Turkish military aviator.”
According to Miller, after this discovery, she realized that there were no large airports named after American women pilots. It was then that the idea for the campaign materialized, as she recalled the achievements of Maggie Gee, one of her grandmother’s friends and a fellow WASP veteran.
Born in Berkeley, Gee was first exposed to flying when, as a child, her family would go and watch planes taking off at Oakland International Airport. She was one of two Chinese-American women to fly for the WASP in World War II. As a WASP, Gee flew planes for tow target practices and co-piloted some of the largest U.S. airplanes at the time.
“When I read about (Gee’s) efforts as a pilot in WWII, I felt it would be apt to name the Oakland airport after her,” said Marirose Piciucco, a Richmond resident who signed the petition, in an email. “We pride on our diversity and our commitment to equality. It’s high time we show it.”
According to Port of Oakland spokesperson Keonnis Taylor, the port — which operates the airport — has not released a formal statement on the petition. Taylor said the naming process followed is outlined by its Board of Commissioners and all actions must go through this process.
Miller hopes to build community support and momentum for her campaign so that she can officially present the idea to the Port of Oakland’s Executive Director Chris Lytle.
“We are up against a lot! That being said, I think this idea is valid and worthwhile,” Miller said in the email, commenting on criticism she has received for her idea to rename the airport. “Women’s representation lags behind men’s in many industries. We cannot just wait passively for someone else to decide to put women’s achievements at the forefront.