Female World War II Pilots Receive Overdue Honors
(July 7, 2009)
President Barack Obama signs a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Air Force Service Pilots, established during World War II, in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009. From left, the pilots are: Bernice Falk Haydu, Elaine Danforth Harmon and Lorraine H. Rodgers. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is at far right. Behind the president are active duty Air Force pilots.
||WASHINGTON, July 2, 2009
President Barack Obama yesterday signed a bill to
award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Air Force Service
Pilots of World War II, the first women in American history to fly
More than 60 years ago, they piloted fighter, bomber, transport and
training aircraft with the primary mission of flying noncombat
military missions in the United States, thus freeing their male
counterparts for combat missions. But their contribution went
largely unrecognized for years; they were not even acknowledged with
veteran status until 1977.“
The Women Air Force Service Pilots courageously answered
their country's call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave
women who have given and continue to give so
much in service to this nation since,” Obama said.
“Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am
honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the
hard-earned recognition they deserve.”
From 1942 to 1943, more than 1,000 women joined the unit, and 38 of them made
the ultimate sacrifice in performing its mission. This legislation, which passed
the Senate and House in recent months, confers proper recognition on the women's
achievements, its sponsors said. |
“The Women Air Force Service Pilots of World War II are trailblazers and true
patriots,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, said. “They risked their
lives in service to our nation, but for too long their contribution to the war
effort has been undervalued or under recognized.”
After the Senate passed the bill May 20, Mikulski issued a news release hailing
its successful journey on Capitol Hill. “I am so pleased both houses of Congress
have now come together to right this wrong, and to finally give these courageous
women the proper recognition they deserve,” she said in the release.
The female pilots faced overwhelming cultural and gender bias against women
serving in nontraditional roles and overcame injustice to serve their country,
the Senate bill states. Enduring through adversity, the bill continues, these
pilots became a catalyst for revolutionary reform in the integration of women
pilots into the U.S. military.
The Women Air Force Service Pilots, known collectively as WASPs, participated in
instructor piloting, towing targets for air-to-air gunnery practice,
ground-to-air anti-aircraft practice and transporting personnel and cargo, among
other tasks. In total, the women flew more than 60 million miles on American
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, a co-sponsor of the House version of
the bill, said the legislation recognizes the women's sacrifice.
“Today, this Congress has recognized their sacrifice and considers them all
heroes because these trailblazers and true patriots served our country without
question and with no expectations of recognition or praise,” she said following
the June 16 House passage. “That is what being a true hero is all about.
“This bill honors mothers, grandmothers, teachers, office workers, nurses,
business women, photographers, [and] dancers. One was even a nun,” she added.
“But before that, they were pilots for the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War
The groundbreaking steps taken by the WASP unit paved the way for hundreds of
U.S. servicewomen to serve as combat pilots and fly fighter aircraft in recent
conflicts, a White House news release states.
By John J. Kruzel
White House photo by Pete Souza
American Forces Press Service
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