Friday, July 10, 2009

Three local women to be recognized for WWII Service

Three women living in Skagit and Island counties who served as pilots during World War II will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest honors a civilian may receive, for their bravery and roles in breaking down the barriers that prevented women becoming military pilots.

Lois Dobbins Auchteronie, 92, of Anacortes, Mary “Pat”

Hiller Call, 89, of Mount Vernon, and Margaret Neyman Martin of Oak Harbor will receive the award this fall. The ceremony hasn’t yet been scheduled.

The three women were among 1,074 women who served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Roughly 300 of those women, including 12 Washington residents, are alive today.

On Tuesday, President Barak Obama signed the bill that awards the medals to the WASP veterans.

“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,” said Obama, according to the U.S. Air Force Web site.

The bill was authored by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland. Cosponsors included Washington Democrats Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

WASP members were the first women to fly American military aircraft, and 38 were killed during duty, according to the Air Force. Their example paved the way for the armed services in the 1970s to lift the ban on women receiving military flight training, eventually leading to the full integration of women as military pilots, according to Murray’s prepared statement.

The program operated from 1942 to 1944. The female pilots ferried and tested aircraft, freeing male pilots for combat. Hiller Call began her service in March 1942 and Dobbins Auchteronie in December 1943. Both women served until December 1944. Neyman Martin’s length of service wasn’t available Wednesday.

“These brave pilots have empowered and inspired decades of women service members who have followed in their footsteps,” Murray’s statement read.

The WASP members were not considered part of the military, and their records were classified until the mid-1970s. The WASP servicewomen received veteran status in 1977.

“Just like the Tuskegee Airman and Navajo Code Talkers received the Congressional Medal of Honor after their service, the Women Airforce Service Pilots too deserve the highest honor given by Congress,” said Cantwell in a prepared statement.

Marta Murvosh can be reached at 360-416-2149 or

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