Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Honor of Extraordinary Proportions

by Nancy Parrish

On the **cover of the ‘Flyer’ (right) is a spectacular photograph that captures an amazing event held March 10, 2010: a ceremony to award the Women Airforce Service Pilots the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow on a civilian. That moment was the culmination of many years of hard work and persistence by one very determined Daedalian (James Connally Flight), who is standing at the podium, her back to the camera, her eyes on her WASP peers.   She also happens to be my mom, WASP Deanie Parrish.

Surrounding her are the shining faces of over two hundred WASP in attendance in the Capitol’s  Emancipation Hall.  As Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We had to turn hundreds of people away because we didn’t have a room big enough to contain the admiration that we all have for you.”   It was the largest crowd in history to gather inside the Capitol! 

I marvelled at the parade of thank you’s.   In just a few words, each speaker offered their own heart-felt tribute, from bill sponsors Sen Hutchison and Sen. Mikulski, Rep Ros-Lehtinen and Susan Davis, to Tom Brokaw and SECAF Michael Donley.

Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski (first female Thunderbird Pilot, combat vet and author of the first draft of the bill), said, “Despite the incredible barriers that were placed in their path... They have always focused on their opportunity to fly, the privilege of serving their country, and the importance of the mission they set out and accomplished.  To me, they are the embodiment of the word, ‘integrity’.”

Tributes followed from Rep. Boehner and Sen Harry Reid, with Sen McConnell adding, “We honor them for reaffirming with their lives not only America’s enduring commitment to freedom, but many other deeply American qualities: an impatience with artificial obstacles to success,  a commitment to excellence, guts, daring, and the willingness, once victory is won, to quietly walk away, content to return to ordinary life.” 

Summing up, the Speaker added, “All of us send you our gratitude for your service, for your patriotism, and for your boundless optimism that the sky is not even the limit anymore for the women of our nation.   The patriotism of the WASP  blazed a trail for the women that came after — in flight, in the field of battle, and even in the Congress of the United States.”  In an unscripted moment, she said, “May I just say... all things considered, your receiving this award brings added luster to the Congressional Gold Medal.”

Added luster, indeed.

Finally, stepping to the podium, facing the crowd of over 2,500 (not including several overflow rooms and a world wide television audience), was the one lone WASP, accepting the award on behalf of all the WASP.  For six minutes she spoke, interrupted by applause 7 times.  At one point, Tom Brokaw rose and adjusted her microphone.  Undeterred, she continued, “Over 65 years ago, we each served our country without any expectations of recognition or glory,  and we did it without compromising the values that we were taught as we grew up: honor, integrity, patriotism, service,  faith, and commitment.  We did it because our country needed us.”  She then thanked everyone -- from those who helped lobby Congress to the artists who designed the medal.  She closed with: “I believe I speak for every WASP when I say that it was both a privilege and an honor to serve our country during some of the darkest days of World War II... God bless all of you and God bless all our troops, who are keeping our country free.” 

I am, as you would expect, very proud of my mom.  She meant it, every word.

So, for my mom and all the WASP, THANK YOU DAEDALIANS  for recognizing their service by inviting the WASP to become Daedalians in 2002.  Your national recognition was one of many significant steps that brought them to our capitol on this miraculous day in March.  A miraculous day, indeed.  I know, I was smiling from the front row!

**Magazine cover design  by Nancy Parrish
Photo used with permission from the Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Fotogliph
WASP Gold Medal graphics used with permission

POSTER available online

Original article  published in Daedalus Flyer Fall 10