News>WASP awarded Congressional Gold Medal for service
President Barack Obama signs S.614 in the Oval Office July 1 at the White House. The bill awards a Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots. The WASP program was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than 1,000 women joined, flying 60 million miles of noncombat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. (Official White House photo/Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama chats with WASP pilots Elaine Harmon (left) and Lorraine Rodgers in the Oval Office after signing S.614, a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots July 1 at the White House. The WASP program was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than 1,000 women joined, flying 60 million miles of noncombat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. (Official White House photo/Pete Souza)
7/2/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- A dedicated group of patriotic female pilots were recognized by President Barack Obama July 1 at the White House for their invaluable service to the nation more than 60 years ago.
Women's Airforce Service Pilots Elaine Danforth Harmon, Bernice Falk Haydu and Lorraine H. Rodgers were joined by five female current Air Force pilots in the White House Oval Office to witness the president sign into law a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP.
"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," President 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."
The WASP was established during World War II with the primary mission of flying noncombat military missions in the United States, thus freeing their male counterparts for combat missions overseas. They were the first women ever to fly American military aircraft and they flew almost every type of aircraft operated by the Army Air Force during World War II, logging more than 60 million miles.
Being in the Oval Office while the president signed the bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP was exciting and "an honor," Ms. Harmon said. "It's really nice that all these women will be honored for their service."
"We didn't join the WASP looking for recognition, but were just doing what was needed during the war," she said. "Most everyone else in the country worked hard too and did their part to contribute to the war effort."
When young female pilots thank Ms. Harmon or call her a pioneer, she admited to feeling slightly embarrassed and thoroughly impressed with today's military women aviators.
"The women pilots in uniform today are truly exceptional," she said. "They are so competent, educated and knowledgeable about things far beyond what we ever dreamed of learning in home economics. They should know that all of the WASP are very proud of what they are accomplishing today."
More than 1,000 women joined the WASP and 38 of them were killed during duty. Following World War II, these women were released from duty and returned home. During their time in the WASP, they held civilian status and were not members of the military. Their contributions went largely unrecognized and the women weren't afforded veteran status until 1977.
The groundbreaking steps taken by the WASP paved the way for today's generation of military female aircrew currently engaged in conflicts around the world.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest and most distinguished award Congress can award to a civilian. Since the American Revolution; Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. In 2000 and 2006, Congress awarded the Gold Medal to the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, respectively.
12/3/2009 12:54:01 AM ET I want to second Tim Butz's commendation of Ruby Mensching. She ran an FBO at Akron Muni when I was a very nearsighted 15 year old with a strong desire to fly in the late '60s. She and husband Jim gave me the opportunity by paying me to crawl under private planes using MEK to remove burned exhaust and oil then wash and wax them. Sweep the half acre hangar, empty trash cans filled with grape soda cans and cigarette butts and position planes. I was too young to be a fueler. It sounds like pure drudgery but as a teenager I was in heaven.In exchange for about four days of work I would earn an hour of instruction in a wet Piper Cherokee 140B. I would ride my bike several miles to the hangar as i didn't have a license to drive. About a month after my 16th birthday I soloed and could add more flying hours as I didn't have to pay the instructor. I still rode my bike to fly most of the time. Ruby was a tough as nails boss yet she never told me I couldn't be a military officer.
Kirk Knight, Silicon Valley
11/1/2009 11:23:10 PM ET My aunt Pearl Bragg Laska Chamberlin is a WASP. She celebrated her 100th birthday in April and currently lives in Nashville TN.She learned to fly in Southern West Virginia. After the war she wanted to fly for Alaskan Airlines but naturally they weren't hiring women pilots. She then became a bush pilot and a teacher. She was the first woman to fly her own plane from the Lower 48 to Alaska and flew in several Powder Puff Derbies. She has a Masters in Aviation from Miami University of Ohio. She had to fudge on her age because she was too old
Elizabeth Coffin, Munster IN
10/30/2009 3:02:07 PM ET My late and beautiful mother Mary Helen Burke was a WASP, in fact she was the Commanding Officer at Hondo Air Field. She was a great woman as are all the women who served and continue to serve in our military. God Bless them all.
Harry Nichols, Sand Springs Oklahoma
7/19/2009 3:44:00 PM ET I have noticed that some family members of WASP are asking in the comments here how they can make sure that the WASP in their family are recognized with this medal. I'd like to direct all interested people to the now official web page for WASP seeking info about the upcoming awards. Go to this page maintained by the lead Senator in these congressional planshttphutchison.senate.govWASP.htmlPlease publicize this web page so that these elderly WASP do not get left out of this honor.
EverydayCitizen, Hays KS
7/13/2009 6:38:43 PM ET My sister Elizabeth L Gardner was a Wasp who flew B-26's towing targets for gunnery students in B-17's and B-24's in Harlingen Texas. She is featured in an official Air Force photo leaning ou the window of her plane. She currently resides in the Amsterdam Retirement Center in New York City. I want someone to make sure she gets her official award. Please tell me what procedures to follow.
Robert Gardner, Darien Illinois
7/11/2009 4:17:51 PM ET When Where and How will the remaining WASP receive the Medal My mother wasp WASP and All mom and dad childern think this is a GREAT Honor for mom and all the other WASP's.
R. K. Ross, Moberly Misouri
7/8/2009 4:47:11 PM ET How do we get a WASP submitted for this award.
David , PAFB
7/6/2009 1:49:29 PM ET The women who served in the WASP deserve this long overdue honor. My first knowledge of WASP activities came as a Civil Air Patrol Cadet in the early-mid 1960s. I met Ruby Mensching a former WASP pilot who operated a flying service out of Akron Municipal Airport. During WW II she flew 19 different types of planes including B-17s B-25s P-47s and P-51s. In addition to flying CAP search missions and training missions she was always willing to take cadets on orientation flights and do other things to interest young people in aviation. She had an impact on my life and made me wonder why the Air Force would not allow women to fly. Of course that changed and I like to think that Ruby and her comrades helped make it inevitable. I ended up joining the Air Force out of high school in part due to my experiences in CAP and the adult members like Ruby who mentored me.
Tim Butz, Omaha NE
7/4/2009 12:11:11 PM ET Mabel Rawlinson was one of the 38 WASP that made the ultimate sacrifice and she definitely deserves the congressional medal.It was at Camp Davis on the night of August 23, 1943 that Mabel lost her life when her airplane crashed and was consumed by flames. She became one of the very special women numbering only 38 who served and died as pilots for the Air Force in World War II.Since WASP were technically considered volunteer civilian pilots and not Air Force pilots no monetary compensation was available to the Rawlinson family for her funeral expenses.The other female pilots at Camp Davis pooled their extra money and assisted in the expense of transporting Mabel's casket back to Kalamazoo for burial.
Pam Pohly, Kalamazoo Michigan
7/4/2009 11:47:01 AM ET My mother Genevieve Ellis North was a WASP. She passed away in 1999 and this is the 10-year anniversary of her death. It is fitting that this special Congressional Medal be given to these women who not only broke through the glass ceiling but they broke through the sky so the rest of us women could follow.
Lauren Kirby, Virginia
7/2/2009 8:09:50 PM ET Volabamus VolamusCongratulations from a Daedalian.