By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Rosie the Riveter wasn't the only World War II hero to wear skirts. Add to her the unsung 1,102 Women Airforce Service Pilots who flew military aircraft around the country, freeing up the guys to fly into combat. On Wednesday, the women finally get national recognition when Hill leaders present the fewer than 300 survivors with the Congressional Gold Medal. It's a fitting end to a campaign started in 2008 by a famous Air Force pilot, former Thunderbirds member Maj. Nicole Malachowski. She says that seeing a dusty WASPs display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum when she was 12 inspired her to be a pilot, and now she's just paying the WASPs back for paving the way. "They made it possible," says the first-ever female Thunderbird, "for us to have that opportunity."
Here's the official release about the Wednesday ceremony:
Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII to be Honored with Congressional Gold Medal
Women's Memorial Foundation to Serve as Official Host of Activities Surrounding Ceremony
WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 24, 2010) – Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) from World War II will finally be given the recognition and honor they deserve when they and representatives of deceased WASP receive a Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony to be held in the United States Capitol on Wednesday, March 10, 2010. The WASP were a trailblazing group of 1,102 civilian female pilots, the first to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Nearly 70 years ago, WASP ferried fighter, bomber, transport, and training aircraft and performed other missions in the continental United States to help defend America's freedom.
Through their heroic and patriotic actions, the WASP helped pave the way for women military aviators today. The WASP were not granted military status until 1977 and the women pilots had to pay their own way to training, set up collections to help send a fallen WASP home, and after the war, paid their own way home. Fewer than 300 WASP survive today and more than half, along with some one thousand family members and friends, are expected to travel to Washington to personally receive their medals. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation will serve as the official host for two days of events in the nation's capital to honor the WASP and recognize their service.
"The Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation is both honored and pleased to be a part of this historic event to pay tribute to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. The Women's Memorial was built so that the American public, and the world, could come to know about the over 2.5 million women who have served in the nation's defense," said Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught (USAF, Ret.), president of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation. "Our primary mission is to tell the story of women's service. It is therefore both fitting and essential that we would assist in this tribute to the WASP and their extraordinary story of service and sacrifice at a time in our history when women aviators were almost non-existent. The WASP were true trailblazers.
Activities honoring the WASP commence with a private remembrance ceremony at the World War II Memorial on Tuesday, March 9 at 4 p.m. A welcome salute reception will immediately follow at the Women In Military Service For America Memorial. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Republican Leader John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and Members of Congress will hold the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony on March 10 at 11 a.m. in the Capitol. A celebration reception for WASP, family, and friends will be held in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center following the ceremony. Legendary television news anchor and author of "The Greatest Generation" Tom Brokaw will attend. Additional special guests include Vice Admiral Vivien Crea (USCG, Ret.), the first woman to serve as a Presidential Military Aide and pioneering Coast Guard aviator; Colonel Eileen Collins (USAF, Ret.), the first woman astronaut to command a Space Shuttle; and Major Nicole Malachowski, who initiated legislation to recognize the WASP and the first female to serve as an Air Force Thunderbird pilot.
"At the Women's Memorial, the Fly Girls of World War II exhibit is showcasing the inspirational history of the WASP. It is a beautiful setting that is dedicated to honoring all women who have worn a uniform and served our country," said Nancy Parrish, executive director of Wings Across America. "Because of the Women's Memorial Foundation and its exceptional support, the national spotlight is shining even brighter to celebrate and honor the WASP on this special occasion.
The Women's Memorial is currently home to Fly Girls of World War II, an extensive exhibit that tells the story of women aviators who, as WASP, performed the stateside service of male pilots, relieving more men to fly combat missions overseas during the war. To learn how to help ensure all living WASP can attend celebration activities in Washington, D.C., please visit www.flygirls.org.