She started off as an elevator operator in a department store in Portland, Oregon, until she discovered flying, saving all the money she could to take flying lessons.
In 1932, she became one of the first Chinese-American women to gain a pilot's license.
When China and Japan went to war against each other, she travelled to China to volunteer for the Chinese Air Force. Because she was female, she was given a desk job, and only managed to fly occasionally, for a commercial company working out of Nanjing.
She spent nearly a year as a refugee in Hong Kong, but returned to the United States in 1938.
In 1943 she joined the Women's Airforce Service Pilots as their first Chinese-American pilot. The women pilots ferried planes from the factories to airfields across North America. On one occasion she had to make a forced landing in a farmer's field, and was chased with a pitchfork as he mistook her for an invading Japanese pilot!
She trained to fly all the US Air Force single engine planes, and it was while landing a P-63 that she crashed, as two planes tried to land on the same runway at the same time. She got the radio message to pull up and try again, the other pilot didn't due to a faulty radio, and they collided in mid-air. Hazel Lee died of her injuries a few days later. She was 33.
Despite flying for the military, the women of WASP were classed as civilians, and were not allowed military funerals.