For Immediate Release: Media Contact: HUTCHISON/ Courtney Sanders (202) 224-9767
May 20, 2009 MIKULSKI/ Cassie Harvey (202) 224-0574
Bill to Award WWII Women Airforce Pilots Congressional Gold Medal Unanimously Passes in U.S. Senate
Sen. Hutchison and Sen. Mikulski Joined to Introduce Bill in March
--All 17 Women in the Senate Cosponsored--
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, legislation honoring the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal passed unanimously through the U.S. Senate. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Texas’ senior Senator, joined with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in March to introduce the legislation to honor these women pilots, who have never received formal or public recognition for their wartime service to the United States. The bill was cosponsored by 75 Senators, including all 17 women in the U.S. Senate.
Upon passage of the companion bill, H.R. 2014, in the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill will then go to the President for final approval.
“More than fifty years have passed since the intrepid Women Airforce Service Pilots bravely served in World War II. The passage of this bill is an important step toward formally acknowledging the important contributions these women made to the American war effort. Their service paved the way for all women who serve valiantly in the military today,” said Sen. Hutchison. “We will work to bring the award process to completion so that this is the last Memorial Day that the extraordinary service of the Women Airforce Service Pilots goes without formal recognition.”
“The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II are 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,”Senator Mikulski said. “That’s why I was proud to fight for this bill to right this wrong and to finally honor these women not just with words, but with deeds. Tonight we’ve moved one step closer to giving these courageous women the top Congressional award they deserve.”
"Thank you to the U.S. Senate for giving our entire nation an extraordinary opportunity to say 'thank you' to a group of trailblazing, courageous women pilots, who served our country without question and with no expectations of honor or glory. WASP I know are absolutely humbled by this incredible honor, and are grateful to the Congress for remembering General Hap Arnold's promise: to ‘never forget.’ Thank you on their behalf and on behalf of those of us who have been inspired and challenged by the remarkable WASP,” said Nancy Parrish, 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.
Commentary: Women of The Women Airforce Service Pilots long overdue to receive recognition, benefits (El Paso Times)