Saturday, May 23, 2009

WWII pilot may soon be honored

WWII pilot may soon be honored

By Mark Hofmann


Saturday, May 23, 2009

In her back yard in Connellsville nearly 70 years ago, a little girl looked up to the sky and dreamed of flying.

She spent her spare time assembling model airplanes, one after another, imagining what it would be like in the pilot's seat. "I think you're born with certain dreams," said Florence Shutsy-Reynolds. "I didn't know it would involve military aircraft."

Born in 1923, Reynolds graduated from high school and a scholarship led her

to enter the government's Civilian Pilot Training Program at Connellsville Airport, where she flew for the first time in 1941 at the age of 18.

The United States was on the cusp of war, and during the next few years, 25,000 women applied for training for the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, called WASP. Of those, only 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 graduated. One of them was Reynolds.

Now 86, the retired pilot has one more goal to reach.

A bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASPs has passed the Senate. Its sponsors, including Rep. John Murtha, still need the support of 38 House members before the surviving WASP veterans -- nearly 300 -- receive their medals.

"I've waited 65 years to be recognized. I don't have another 65 years to wait," Reynolds said.

Reynolds can still recite the opening lines of John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s poem "High Flight" that she memorized decades ago: "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter’s silvered wings. ..."

"Those two lines are what flying is like for me," Reynolds said. At the time she started to pilot a plane in 1941, the demand for male combat pilots and warplanes left a lack of state-side pilots to ferry planes from the factory to distribution points.

A proposal to the government from pilots Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy

Harkness had brought two women pilot programs in the Army Air Force in

1942. The programs were combined to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots

a year later.

The government had closed the Civilian Pilot Training Program to women in 1941 to train more men for flight. But Reynolds still wanted to fly. When she learned about the WASP program in a newspaper, she wrote to Cochran, asking to be admitted to the program.

Though she was only 19 and candidates needed to be 21 to join WASP, she continued to mail letters until she was sure Cochran had a stack of them. When the age limit was lowered, Reynolds was admitted to the program and graduated in June 1944.

Reynolds' assignments included flight testing repaired training aircraft, slowtime flights to check engine maintenance, ferrying damaged aircraft to and from repair depots and transporting personnel and material, often making more than one flight every day.

WASP members were not in combat, though their flights could be dangerous. Thirty-eight of the pilots died while flying for the Army Air Force, and they're represented by 38 stars on the WASP flag that Reynolds designed in 1986. "It was great," said Reynolds, who was known as "Shutsy." "But it was hard work. You never knew if you were going to return alive."

During one take-off, Reynolds' plane lost power at a point that could have caused her to crash. She managed to get the plane under control, completed her assignment and reported the problem to her superiors. The next day, another WASP took up the same plane. The hydraulic line broke and the plane crashed, killing the pilot.

The incident left her wondering about the danger, but it never stopped her from flying, even when the military disbanded the WASP program in December 1944 and then seemingly forgot about the pilots.

In the early 1970s, the Air Force announced it would allow women to fly their aircraft for the first time. The news angered WASPs across the country who felt their World War II service had not been recognized. It wasn't until 1977 that the veteran pilots were recognized as an important part of the Army Air Force. After that, they received veteran's status as well as the American Campaign Medal and the Victory Medal.

Reynolds remained in the military until she retired 40 years ago at the rank of captain.

Though her sight has dimmed, she still has a clear vision of what needs to be done to receive the recognition she feels is deserves.

The former WASP has kept true to the program's motto: "We live in the wind and sand and our eyes are on the stars."

Mark Hofmann can be reached at or 724-626-3539.

Images and

ALASKAN WASP in Line for Congressional GOLD


Thursday, May 21, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate has passed legislation honoring the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II, including three living Alaskans, with the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced today.
Passed Wednesday night by unanimous consent, the legislation seeks to recognize and honor the 1,074 women who received their WASP wings during World War II. Some 300 still survive and are living throughout America.
The three Alaskans are Nancy Lee Baker of Fairbanks, Ellen M. Campbell of Juneau and Virginia Wood of Fairbanks.

“These brave women faced cultural and gender bias, received unequal pay and didn’t have full military status during the war,” said Murkowski, an original co-sponsor of the legislation. “They even had to pay their own way home after the war. They have never received formal or public recognition for their wartime service to our nation. As we prepare to observe Memorial Day, it’s only appropriate for Congress to recognize and honor their service and award them the highest and most distinguished honor a civilian may receive.”

Between 1942 and 1944, young American women volunteered for flight training and service. By the war’s end, 1,074 female pilots had received their wings, making them America’s first women to fly military aircraft. They flew non-combat missions, so male pilots could be deployed in combat.
The bill must still pass the House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Obama before the medal can be awarded.

Friday, May 22, 2009



Edgemont woman among those to be awarded Congressional Gold Medals

Ola Mildred Rexroat served as a WASP in World War II.

Ola Mildred "Rexy" Rexroat admires an AT-6 owned by Harry Thompson of Brookings. She flew that type of World War II-era plane while in the Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) program. She went on to serve as an Air Force reserve officer and air traffic controller. (Photo courtesy Karen Yekel)

An Edgemont resident who served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II is one of more than 1,000 women who will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Ola Mildred Rexroat of Edgemont, the last surviving South Dakota WASP, was one of six South Dakotans to serve in the WASPs and, as an Oglala Lakota, is believed to be the only female Native American to have served in the WASPs.

WASPs flew essential non-combat missions so that their male counterparts could be deployed in combat situations. WASPs were required to complete the same primary, basic and advanced training courses as male Army Air Corps pilots, and many went on to specialized flight training. By the conclusion of the war, WASPs logged 60 million miles of flying. During her service, Rexroat towed targets for gunnery students at Eagle Pass Army Air Base in Texas. After the war, she continued her service in the Air Force reserve for nearly 10 years. In a resolution passed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Rexroat will receive the Congressional Gold Medal, given "in honor of outstanding service to the United States." The medal is one of the nation's highest civilian award. "The WASPs served our country with extraordinary bravery, even in the face of discrimination," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said in a news release. "Their service was essential to the war effort, and this recognition of their heroics is long overdue." The service of the WASPs did not receive adequate recognition in the years after the war. WASPs were not granted veterans' status until 1977, when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation making the WASPs part of the Air Force. They received no back pay or death insurance, but they finally won recognition. Thune, who co-sponsored the Senate resolution, said that the recognition is much deserved. "Because WASPs' records were classified and archived for over 30 years, they have been left out of much of the documented history of World War II," Thune said in the news release. "This Congressional Gold Medal finally gives these women the honor they deserve."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

S.614 Unanimously Passes in U.S.Senate

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.



Press Release: Sens. Hutchison, Mikulski Introduce Bill to Award WWII Women Airforce Pilots Congressional Gold Medal

Commentary: Women of The Women Airforce Service Pilots long overdue to receive recognition, benefits (El Paso Times)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Get Fired up for the WASP and HR 2014!


NOW IS THE TIME we need to be firing on all cylinders and in all directions, reaching out ACROSS AMERICA to REPRESENTATIVES not yet signed on to co-sponsor HR 2014 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP of WWII.

HR 2014 needs our help NOW--before other bills dwarf the request and before the House members begin to make their summer vacation plans.



74 = Number of Representatives still needed to Co-sponsor HR 2014

63 = Number of Reps with WASP living in their Districts NOT YET SIGNED ON

27 = Women Reps who have NOT YET SIGNED ON

This week, the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues and Women and the Military Task Force of the House of Representatives will be attending a ceremony at the Women's Memorial, where the Fly Girls WASP Exhibit is on display. This is a prime opportunity for them to SEE the WASP history up close -- and to sign on to CO-Sponsor HR 2014. EVERY WOMAN should SIGN ON.

This week, EVERY REPRESENTATIVE NOT YET SIGNED ON TO THE BILL NEEDS TO BE CONTACTED. It is simple. The NYY (not yet yes) database is a great resource. Reps in yellow have WASP in their districts. ALL the Reps in yellow and white need to be NUDGED, TWEEETED, VISITED AND INFORMED!

PICK UP THE PHONE OR SEND A TWEET. EVERY VOICE needs to be counted now--and, even if you don't live in the district, make the call on behalf of the WASP. WE are the only lobby the WASP have. WE are their voice. Honestly, all they really care about is that America remembers their service. The Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian award that Congress can bestow, puts the history of these ground-breaking women pilots on a NATIONAL STAGE--where children can be EDUCATED and INSPIRED.

Click here to open the database of Representatives.