March 10, 2010


That is the number of Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPS, who served in World War II. Fewer than 300 of those women remain alive today. Their service to this country in wartime, although long honored by the public, has never been officially recognized… until now.

It is an oversight that lasted far longer than it should have, but today, in probably the first really bipartisan effort we’ve seen in decades, our lawmakers awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the women who served. In speech after speech, congress members lauded the contributions of these women who did dangerous work as part of the war effort, testing and ferrying warplanes and flying targets for artillery gunners. The award ceremony was accompanied by a memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony in memory of the 38 who died in that effort.

The WASPs' served unselfishly and without the accolades or honors their male counterparts regularly received. The records of WASP service and accomplishments were sealed for decades and they weren't even recognized as veterans until 1977. Only about 300 are still alive today.

Their service did not go completely unnoticed, and their ability to fly every type of aircraft obviously impressed U.S. Air Force Gen. Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold, who once observed, “We have not been able to build an airplane that you can’t handle. It is on the record that women can fly as well as men.”

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Vivien Crea, the keynote speaker, spoke glowingly of the women who answered the call to duty and launched an unheard of branch of the air service, and would go on to inspire future generations. 

As aviators, you possessed an invaluable capability that our nation desperately wanted,” Crea said. “You joined not because you were great pioneers, but because of your great sense of duty. You served America in its time of peril.” 

Crea, inspired by the WASPs’ service, became an accomplished pilot in her own right. She served for 36 years, became the 25th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, and the 21st and only female Ancient Albatross, a designation given to the longest serving active duty Coast Guard aviator.

This national recognition came too late for many of those who served, but about 200 of those first WASPs attended the ceremony, many of them clad in their World War II-era service uniform. The attending survivors placed roses next to a wreath as a tribute to those who have died during and since the war.

At the close of the ceremony, the 20th Fighter Wing from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., performed a flyover in the “missing man” formation.

It was a fitting tribute to some of the true heroes of World War II.



Old NFO said...

Good point MB, thanks for remembering them!!!

Mule Breath said...

NFO, I've been aware of the WASPs from an early age. One of the major bases was Avinger Field, Sweetwater, Texas - - my old home town. Their story has always impressed me.


I was so excited about the news article I emailed all my friends about it.

S Phillips