Saturday, July 04, 2009

WASP Congressional Medal

With all of the fuss about the AirRace Classic last month and getting ready for Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture) this month, I have been lax blogging about some very VERY big news. I am very fortunate that with all of the women in aviation events, I am often able to interact with some of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (or WASP). They are being remembered on the website: WASP on the WEB:

During World War II, a select group of young women pilots became pioneers, heroes, and role models...They were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. In memory of those we have lost and in honor of those we still cherish... WELCOME TO WASP on the WEB, a site dedicated to sharing the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, and shining a light on the inspirational stories of their lives before, during and after WWII.
"This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and ever weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used." Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942

Have you not heard of the WASP? It's sad, because a lot of people haven't. And the reason you might have just heard of them recently was because they've been in the news a bit. But they weren't always.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and the predecessor groups the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) (from September 10, 1942) were pioneering organizations of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. The female pilots would number thousands, each freeing a male pilot for combat service and duties. The WFTD and WAFS were combined on August 5, 1943 to create the para-military WASP organization.

The WASP women pilots each already had a pilot's license. They were trained to fly "the Army way" by the U.S. Army Air Forces at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. More than 25,000 women applied for WASP service, and less than 1,900 were accepted. After completing months of military flight training, 1,078 of them earned their wings and became the first women in history to fly American military aircraft.

After training, the WASP were stationed at 120 air bases across the U.S. assuming numerous flight-related missions, relieving male pilots for combat duty. They flew sixty million miles of operational flights from aircraft factories to ports of embarkation and military training bases, towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated strafing missions, and transporting cargo. Almost every type of aircraft flown by the USAAF during World War II, including the early U.S. jet aircraft, was also flown by women in these roles. Between September 1942 and December 1944, the WASP delivered 12,650 aircraft of 78 different types. Over fifty percent of the ferrying of combat aircraft within the United States during the war was carried out by WASP, under the leadership of Jacqueline Cochran.

Thirty-eight WASP fliers lost their lives while serving their country during the war. Because they were not considered to be in the military under the existing guidelines, a fallen WASP was sent home at family expense without traditional military honors or note of heroism. The military would not even allow the U.S. flag to be put on fallen WASP pilots coffins.

Those last two sentences just break my heart. In addition, since they weren't considered military veterans, none of them got any benefits from the government after their service. Many found it difficult to get flying jobs after their discharge from military duty (though I understand Delta Airlines offered them STEWARDESS jobs).

Here's something I didn't know: "On June 21, 1944, a bill in the United States House of Representatives to give the WASP military status was narrowly defeated after civilian male pilots lobbied against the idea. As a result, Arnold ordered that the WASP be disbanded by December 20, 1944."

A short explanation of current efforts to publicize the WASP contributions can be found in this online publication from the Wings Across America project that is currently on display at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Wings Across America is a pioneering project, blazing a trail into the future of education, where digital information will explode into learning adventures, and where history will come alive through the colorful and unique eyewitness accounts of surviving WASP of WWII, FIRST WOMEN IN HISTORY TO FLY AMERICA'S MILITARY AIRCRAFT!

In the years after their service, all records of the WASP were classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions to the war effort were little known and inaccessible to historians for many years. In 1975, under the leadership of Col. Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold, the WASP fought the "Battle of Congress" in Washington, D.C., to belatedly obtain recognition as veterans of World War II. They organized as a group again and tried to gain public support for their official recognition. Finally, in 1977, with the important support of Senator Barry Goldwater (having been a ferry pilot himself during the war with the 27th Ferry Squadron), President Jimmy Carter signed legislation #95-202, Section 401, The G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP corps full military status for their service. In 1984, each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal. Those who served for more than one year were also awarded American Theater Ribbon/American Campaign Medal for their service during the war. Many of the medals were received by their sons and daughters on their behalf.

Because of the pioneering and the expertise they demonstrated in successfully flying every type of military aircraft, from the fastest fighters to the heaviest bombers, the WASP had proved conclusively that female pilots, when given the same training as male pilots, were as capable.

The latest news, though, is as follows:

On 1 July 2009 President Barack Obama and the United States Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. Three of the roughly 300 surviving WASPs were on hand to witness the event. During the ceremony President Obama said, "The Women Airforce 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. 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." To the left in this picture is Bernice (Bee) Haydu, who I was fortunate enough to have met in the Air Race Classic, and to the far right, Nicole Malachowski, the first female Thunderbirds pilot and Girls With Wings role model.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Mikulski introduced Senate Bill 614 on March 12, 2009 and the president signed it into Public Law 111-40 on July 1, 2009. The bill sailed through Congress in a matter of three months, thanks to the grassroots efforts of the many WASP supporters throughout the nation. Here is a link to Public Law 111-40.


Planning for the ceremony is still in the beginning stages. As information becomes available, it will be posted here.

Congressional Gold Medal – There will be one Gold Medal minted by the U.S. Mint. This medal will be on visible at the ceremony, and then will be donated to the Smithsonian Institution for permanent display.

Bronze Medals – Bronze medal replicas of the gold medal will be awarded to each WASP survivor at the ceremony. One family member from each deceased WASP will receive a bronze medal on behalf of the family. Additional duplicate bronze medals will be available for purchase from the Mint, for remaining family members and others interested in the WASPs.

Ceremony Date – The date has not been determined yet. It could be several months before a firm date is set. The U.S. Mint is currently in the process of designing the medal. Once the design is approved, then the U.S. Treasury must actually mint the medal. Due to the advancing age of many surviving WASPS, the ceremony will then be scheduled to ensure as many WASPs as possible will be able to attend.

Ceremony – The ceremony will take place in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, with related events and galas to commemorate the occasion.

The National WASP WWII Museum

Plane PhotoThe National WASP WWII Museum seeks to educate and inspire all generations with the story of the WASP: Women Airforce Service Pilots – the first women to fly American’s military aircraft – women who forever changed the role of women in aviation!

The museum is conveniently located just minutes off Interstate 20 at 210 Loop 170 in Sweetwater, Texas. Pilots flying over Sweetwater can land at Avenger Field – the Sweetwater Airport (SWW). The museum is a short distance away. For assistance with directions or in setting up special tours, call 325.235.0099.


  1. Thanks for this posting-- you are reaching a whole new audience!

    Here is the correct link to WASP on the WEB:
    or, you can go to


    Nancy Parrish, daughter of WASP Deanie Parrish
    Director, Wings Across America

  2. The National World War II Museum, formerly known as the National D-Day Museum, is a museum located in the Central Business District of New Orleans, Louisiana, at the corner of Andrew Higgins and Magazine Street. It focuses on the contribution made by the United States to victory by the Allies in World War II, and the Battle of Normandy in particular. It was designated by the U.S. Congress as "America's National World War II Museum" in 2003

  3. Anonymous4:13 PM

    I want to thank you ladies for blazing a trail into the Military for women like myself. I began my AF career almost 30 years after your organization was formed and can still vividly remember much of the harassment I encountered as a woman; I cannot imagine what you all went thru. But I thank you each and every one of you for your hard fought victories and leading the way.

    TSgt Paula Bavilacqua, USAF/Ret