For Immediate Release: Contact: HUTCHISON/ Courtney Sanders (202) 224-9767
March 17, 2009 MIKULSKI/ Cassie Harvey (202) 224-0574
Sens. Hutchison, Mikulski Introduce Bill to Award
WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots
Congressional Gold Medal
Full Recognition of the Women Airforce Service Pilots is 50 Years Overdue
--All 17 Women in the Senate Cosponsor--
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), along with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), today introduced a bill to award the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II the Congressional Gold Medal. These women pilots have never received formal or public recognition for their wartime service to the United States. The bill was cosponsored by all 17 women in the U.S. Senate.
“More than fifty years have passed since the intrepid Women Airforce Service Pilots bravely served in World War II, but these women have yet to receive the recognition they deserve. Even without formal acknowledgement, their service paved the way for all women who serve valiantly in the military today,” said Sen. Hutchison. “Just as the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen served their country with distinction in World War II, and were subsequently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, it is appropriate for us to honor the service of the Women Airforce Service Pilots with Congress’ top award.”
“The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II were trailblazers and true patriots. 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,” Sen. Mikulski said. “I am proud to co-sponsor this bill to right this wrong. For their valor, service and dedication to our nation, these women deserve the most distinguished honor Congress can give.”
“It was both an honor and a privilege to serve this country during some of the darkest days of World War II. I think it's important for young people today to realize that WASP flew missions that were dangerous, but in order for our country to be free, that's what it took, and we did it without any thought of recognition or glory. However, I believe I speak for every WASP when I say 'we are humbled by Senator Hutchison and her peers' desire to honor our service with the Congressional Gold Medal,” said WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish, Associate Director, Wings Across America.
Between 1942 and 1944, the 1,102 women of WASP were trained in Texas, then went on to fly non-combat military missions so that all their male counterparts could be deployed to combat. These women piloted every kind of military aircraft, and logged 60 million miles flying missions across the United States. They were never awarded full military status and were ineligible for officer status. Following the war, the women pilots paid their own way home. And for the 38 women who died in the line of duty, their families were saddled with the costs to transport their bodies and arrange burials. It was not until 1977 that the WASP participants were granted veterans’ status.
The example set by the Women Airforce Service Pilots paved the way for the armed forces to lift the ban on women attending military flight training in the 1970s, and eventually led to women being fully integrated as pilots in the U.S. military. Today, women fly every type of aircraft and mission, from fighter jets in combat to the shuttle in space flight.
Of the 1,102 women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. The Congressional Gold Medals will be awarded to all 1,102 pilots and/or their surviving family members.
The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded by Congress and, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the highest and most distinguished honor a civilian may receive. The award is bestowed for exceptional acts of service to the United States or for lifetime achievement. Once approved by Congress, the U.S. Mint designs and creates each gold medal so that it uniquely represents the individual or event being honored. The original medal is then displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.
Also cosponsoring the measure were Sens. Feinstein (D-CA), Landrieu (D-LA), Stabenow (D-MI), Lincoln (D-AR), Murray (D-WA), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), Boxer (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Murkowski (R-AK), Klobuchar (D-MN), Hagan (D-NC), Cantwell (D-WA), and McCaskill (D-MO).