Thursday, March 19, 2009


MARCH 17, 2009

Sen. Kay Hutchison [R-TX]: [Introducing S. 614] Mr. President, I rise today to introduce a bill that is sponsored by every woman in the Senate. All 17 of us have come together to introduce legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, called the WASP. Senator Mikulski and I are taking the lead on this with the other 15 women Senators to finally honor over 1,000 of the bravest, most courageous women in U.S. military history.

This is a picture of those brave World War II pilots. They were the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft. Between 1942 and 1944, they were recruited to fly non-combat missions so every available male pilot could be deployed in combat.

The women pilots who graduated from Army Air Force flight training earned their silver WASP wings in Texas. The first class graduated at Ellington Field in Houston and the remaining classes from Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX.

Throughout their service, these courageous women flew over 60 million miles in every type of aircraft and on every type of mission flown by Army Air Force male pilots except direct combat missions. Although they took the military oath and were promised military status when they entered training, they were never afforded Active-Duty military status, were never commissioned, and were not granted veteran status until 1977, over 30 years after they had served. All these women volunteered to serve their country in wartime. They paid their own way to Texas for training, and when victory seemed certain and the program was shut down, they paid their own way back home.

Over 25,000 women applied for the program, but only 1,830 qualified women pilots were accepted. Unlike the males, females were required to be qualified pilots before they could even apply for the Army Air Force's military flight training program. By the time the war ended, 38 women pilots had lost their lives while flying for their country. Their families were not allowed to have an American flag placed on their coffins.

I wrote about the WASP in my 2004 book, "American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country." I wanted to raise public awareness about these military pioneers who have had a tremendous impact on the role of women in the military today. Their examples paved the way for the Armed Forces to lift the ban on women attending military flight training in the 1970s and opened the door for women to be fully integrated as pilots in the Armed Forces.

Today, women fly every type of aircraft, from combat fighter aircraft to the space shuttle. However, despite their cultural impact, the WASP have never received honors, nor have they been formally recognized by Congress for their wartime military service--until now. We, the women of the Senate, are introducing legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the courageous WASP of World War II.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest and most distinguished award this body can award to a civilian. These women are certainly worthy.

There are precedents for this action. In 2000 and 2006, this body awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, respectively. Those heroes deserved the same type of distinction, and they, too, served in World War II and were finally appropriately honored by their Government. Now it is time for Congress to celebrate the courage of another group of remarkable Americans who served with courage and honor and whose example brought historic change to our Nation. Of the 1,102 WASP, approximately 300 are still alive today and are living in almost every State of our Nation. They have earned this honor, and the time to bestow the honor is now before any of them are away from us and not able to come to the ceremony which I hope we will have.

I am so pleased that every female Senator, all 17 of us, are cosponsors of this bill, and I hope the rest of our colleagues will also join and that we can pass this bill expeditiously.

I would like to take a moment, with this wonderful picture in the background, to read from the bill that we have just introduced today:

Congress finds that--

(1) the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, known as the "WASP", were the first women in history to fly American military aircraft;

(2) more than 60 years ago, they flew fighter, bomber, transport, and training aircraft in defense of America's freedom;

(3) they faced overwhelming cultural and gender bias against women in nontraditional roles and overcame multiple injustices and inequities in order to serve their country;

(4) through their actions, the WASP eventually were the catalyst for revolutionary reform in the integration of women pilots into the Armed Services;

(5) during the early months of World War II, there was a severe shortage of combat pilots;

(6) Jacqueline Cochran, America's leading woman pilot of the time, convinced General Hap Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, that women, if given the same training as men, would be equally capable of flying military aircraft and could then take over some of the stateside military flying jobs, thereby releasing hundreds of male pilots for combat duty;

(7) the severe loss of male combat pilots made the necessity of utilizing women pilots to help in the war effort clear to General Arnold, and a women's pilot training program was soon approved;

(8) it was not until August, 1943, that the women aviators would receive their official name;

(9) General Arnold ordered that all women pilots flying military aircraft, including 28 civilian women ferry pilots, would be named "WASP", Women Airforce Service Pilots;

(10) more than 25,000 American women applied for training, but only 1,830 were accepted and took the oath;

(11) exactly 1,074 of those trainees successfully completed the 21 to 27 weeks of Army Air Force flight training, graduated, and received their Army Air Force orders to report to their assigned air base;

(12) on November 16, 1942, the first class of 29 women pilots reported to the Houston, Texas Municipal Airport and began the same military flight training as the male Army Air Force cadets were taking;

(13) due to a lack of adequate facilities at the airport, 3 months later the training program was moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas;

(14) WASP were eventually stationed at 120 Army air bases all across America;

(15) they flew more than 60,000,000 miles for their country in every type of aircraft and on every type of assignment flown by the male Army Air Force pilots, except combat;

(16) WASP assignments included test piloting, instructor piloting, towing targets for air-to-air gunnery practice, ground-to-air anti-aircraft practice, ferrying, transporting personnel and cargo (including parts for the atomic bomb), simulated strafing, smoke laying, night tracking, and flying drones;

In October 1943, male pilots were refusing to fly the B-26 Martin Marauder, known as the Widowmaker, because of its fatality record. General Arnold ordered WASP director Jacqueline Cochran to collect 25 WASP to be trained to fly the B-26 to prove to the male pilots that it was safe to fly.

During the existence of the WASP, 38 women lost their lives while serving their country. Their bodies were sent home in poorly crafted pine boxes. Their burial was at the expense of their families or classmates. There were no gold stars allowed in their parent's windows, and because they were not considered military, no American flags were allowed on their coffins.

In 1944, General Arnold made a personal request to Congress to militarize the WASP, and it was denied.

On December 7, 1944, in a speech to the last graduating class of WASP, General Arnold said:

You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. I salute you ..... We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you.

With victory in World War II almost certain, on December 2, 1944, the WASP were quietly and unceremoniously disbanded. There were no honors, no benefits, and very few thank-yous. Just as they had paid their own way to enter training, they paid their way back home.

After their honorable service in the military, the WASP military records were immediately sealed, stamped "classified" or "secret," and filed away in Government archives unavailable to the historians who wrote the history of World War II or the scholars who compiled the history textbooks used today, with many of the records not being declassified until the 1980s. Consequently, the WASP story is a missing chapter in the history of the Air Force, the history of aviation, and the history of the United States of America.

In 1977, 33 years after the WASP were disbanded, the Congress finally voted to give the WASP the veteran status they had earned, but these heroic pilots were not invited to the signing ceremony at the White House, and it was not until 7 years later that their medals were delivered in the mail in plain brown envelopes.

In the late 1970s, more than 30 years after the WASP flew in World War II, women were finally permitted to attend military pilot training in the U.S. Armed Forces. Thousands of women aviators flying support aircraft had benefited from the service of the WASP and followed in their footsteps.

In 1993, the WASP were once again referenced during congressional hearings regarding the contributions women could make to the military, which eventually led to women being able to fly military fighter, bomber, and attack aircraft in combat. Hundreds of U.S. servicewomen combat pilots have seized the opportunity to fly fighter aircraft in recent conflicts, all thanks to the pioneering steps taken by the WASP.

The WASP have maintained a tight-knit community, forged by the common experiences of serving their country during war. As part of their desire to educate America on the WASP history, WASP have assisted Wings Across America, an organization dedicated to educating the American public, with much effort aimed at children, about the remarkable accomplishments of these World War II veterans, and they have been honored with exhibits at museums throughout our country.

Now it is time to give these incredible women pioneers the Congressional Gold Medal, who, along with the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers, are people who have served with courage and valor to our country, and they are people who really have not complained. They are people who did their duty, even with some discrimination in the Armed Forces. But they were never bitter, and they always knew what a service they had given. We have now honored the Navajo Code Talkers and the great Tuskegee Airmen, and I hope we will also accord the greatest honor we can bestow as a Congress to the WASP of World War II.