WASP awarded Congressional Gold Medal for service

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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.