Almost 70 years after volunteering to serve their country during World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony in the Capitol on March 10.
Deanie Parrish, one of the original WASPs, accepted the medal on behalf of the 50 WASPs in attendance.
More than 500 people packed the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall as our nation’s leaders recognized the pioneers.
“Whether or not you realize it, you are educating millions of people who have never heard of the WASPs,” Parrish said.
Adding, “No longer will there be a missing chapter of history of aviation, military and America.”
The WASP story began in 1942 when, facing a shortage of pilots stateside, women volunteered to support the war effort.
From 1942 to 1944, more than 25,000 women applied, and 1,074 were accepted and earned their wings.
They weren’t commissioned, they didn’t even have active-duty status, and they all paid their own way to travel to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, for training by the Army Air Forces.
Yet they all “stepped forward in a precarious time in our country’s history,” Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said.
During the war, WASP pilots flew more than 60 million miles of operational flights from aircraft factories to ports of embarkation and military bases, towing targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulating strafing missions and transporting cargo.
Deanie Parrish (shown on the right), a former pilot who flew for the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II, receives the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of all WASP pilots as members of Congress and several speakers look on, including Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, second from left, and Air Force Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, in front, recovering from a broken leg.
Between September 1942 and December 1944, more than 50 percent of the ferrying of high-speed pursuit aircraft in the continental United States was carried out by WASP pilots.
The women also flew all 77 aircraft in the Army Air Forces arsenal, either in training or while in service.
Of those who received their wings, 38 were killed during duty.
Following World War II, the WASPs were released from duty and returned home, again paying their own way. Their contributions went largely unrecognized, and the women weren’t given veteran status until 1977.
In an interview with Air Force News Service, Josephine Swift, 92, said she was hooked on flying after her brother, a Navy pilot, took her up.
She got her private license and worked for a flying service and jumped at the chance to be a WASP.
“I just applied and they accepted,” she said. “That was the secret, getting accepted.”
“They paved the way for future women in the military,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who introduced the bill to recognize the WASPs and has a daughter-in-law who is a Marine Corps aviator who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said.