Friday, March 20, 2009
Across the United States, there is a special sisterhood of women – most of them in their 80s – who share a unique piece of American history. These women have been mothers and grandmothers, teachers, office workers, nurses, photographers, business women, and dancers, and one was even a nun. But before that, they were pilots, flying every kind of aircraft in the U.S. Army Airforce during World War II. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) postponed career aspirations and family plans in order to actively participate in one of the most consequential moments in the history of our nation. Their service was intrepid, unprecedented, and, for many years, largely unnoticed.
In 1941, as the conflict intensified on fronts around the world, women were at last permitted to join the war effort as pilots by flying necessary ferrying operations, freeing all male pilots for combat deployment. Women pilots from across the country paid their own way to Texas, where they were trained at Houston Municipal Airport and Avenger Field in Sweetwater. Altogether, 1,102 women earned their wings and went on to fly over 60 million miles in non-combat military missions.
In 1943, male pilots refused to fly the B-26 Marauder because they feared it was unsafe. General Hap Arnold called on 25 WASP to be trained to fly the aircraft so their male counterparts would see the B-26 was safe. Despite their tireless service, and the fact that the WASP received training identical to male pilots flying combat missions in European, Asian, and North African theaters, the female pilots were denied full military status. Their service records were sealed and classified. And when the war ended, they paid their own way home, returning to civilian life with little acknowledgement and no official record of their unique contribution to America’s triumph in WWII.
With or without formal recognition, this spirited band of sisters forged their own legacy. Today, nearly 300 are still living, including over 30 in Texas. Deanie Bishop Parrish of Waco recently said, “I think it's important for young people today to realize that WASP flew missions that were dangerous, but in order for our country to be free, that's what it took, and we did it without any thought of recognition or glory.” In recent years, historians have been working to preserve Mrs. Parrish’s story, and others like hers, and rightfully cast these accounts into the rich history of World War II. To that end, I am leading a bipartisan effort of all 17 women in the U.S. Senate to finally bestow the honor that these pilots earned more than 50 years ago. We have introduced a bill to award the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest civilian award.
The valor and service of the WASP is only one part of their legacy. Their success in the line of duty paved the way for armed forces to lift the ban on women attending military flight training in the 1970s, and their efforts eventually led to women being full integrated as military pilots. Now, women fly every type of aircraft and mission, from fighter jets in combat to the shuttle in space flight. The WASP legacy certainly helped open the doors to women in the U.S. military, allowing them to serve in nearly every capacity.
Today, our military is welcoming an unprecedented influx of women who are volunteering to serve our country through Active, Reserve, and National Guard duty. Servicewomen are playing critical roles in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2008, another important milestone was achieved when the first woman, General Ann E. Dunwoody, reached the rank of four-star general. The same year, Texan Monica Brown became the second woman since WWII to receive the Silver Star for valor.
This progress must also be evident in how we care for women veterans. After the WASP left service in the 1940s, the women pilots were denied all veterans’ benefits until 1977. Though we’ve come a long way since then, I am working to make sure that women’s service is met with equal gratitude and equal access to the best health care that the VA can offer. In March, I joined Sen. Patty Murray to lead legislative efforts to improve the VA’s ability to meet the needs of women, who comprise the fastest growing segment of veterans in the VA system. The legislation will encourage the VA to expand treatment programs and broaden research to address the unique health needs of female veterans.
This March, as we observe Women’s History Month, it is critical that we remember and celebrate the achievements of American women, such as the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Their brave service has helped make our military the greatest in the world, and their stories represent the rich legacies that have been woven into U.S. history by American heroines.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI'S FLOOR SPEECH
AS WRITTEN TO BE DELIVERED MARCH 17, 2009
Sen. Barbara Mikulski [D-MD]: Mr. President, I rise today as an original cosponsor of a bipartisan bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots--the WASP. We are introducing this bill in March, which is Women's History Month. It is time to honor and recognize women who have made a difference in our Nation's history. It is a time to honor women who serve as role models. That is exactly what this legislation does.
The WASP were women pilots from across the Nation who volunteered to serve in World War II. They flew America's military aircraft during the war, risking their lives in the service of their nation. They came from all walks of life, but they came together to serve our country as the first women trained to fly American military aircraft. They faced overwhelming cultural and gender bias, received unequal pay, did not have full military status, and were barred from becoming military officers, even though their male counterparts performing similar duties all received officer rank.
In 1943, General Arnold combined two women flying organizations and formed the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Within months, these women paid their own way to Texas to enter training. Each woman was already a licensed pilot, a requirement not imposed on men to apply to flight school. The WASP were still required to learn to fly "the Army way."
The WASP were assured they would be militarized and become part of the Army. These promises were not kept. The WASP took the same oath of office, they marched, but as pilots, they received less pay than men. They did not receive benefits. No VA benefits, no GI bill, no burial rights for the 38 WASP who were killed in service to our Nation. Fellow WASP had to "take the nickels out of the Coke machine" to help send their bodies home.
Over 25,000 women applied to be part of the war effort in the WASP. Many volunteers received a telegram asking for their service. Ultimately, 1102 women earned their wings as pilots. Thirteen of these brave women were from Maryland: women like Barbara Shoemaker, who joined from the Women's Auxiliary Flying Squadron; Elaine Harmon, who as a WASP trained male pilots in instrument flying; Iola Magruder, who flew the B-18 "Bolo"; Jane Tedeschi, who stretched all night before joining the WASP so she could meet the minimum height requirement; and Florence Marston, who flew the B-26 "Widowmaker," notorious for its number of early accidents.
These brave women flew over 60 million miles in 2 years. They flew every type of aircraft and every type of mission as the men, except combat missions. They towed aerial targets while being shot at with live ammunition. They transported cargo. They tested repaired aircraft. They ferried aircraft from factories like Fairchild in Hagerstown, MD, to points across the country. They were stationed at 120 air bases throughout the country.
The WASP were not established to be a replacement for the men; instead, they enabled men to fly the combat missions. They found and fulfilled the service they could. These women were committed and they believed they could do what our country needed at the time we needed it.
The WASP were disbanded in December 1944, when they were told they were "no longer needed." Just as they paid for transport to training, they paid their own way home. For 33 years their military records were classified. For 33 years, their contributions were hidden from historians and textbooks. For 33 years, these brave women were denied veterans benefits.
These women were trailblazers. They displayed honor and courage and flew the most complex aircraft of the age. They are patriots. They are an inspiration to today's women in aviation. They opened the door for today's women to fly in the military in aircraft ranging from cargo and trainers, to fighters and bombers, and even the space shuttle. They inspire young girls to pursue technical fields and aviation. They are role models who deserve to be honored. We owe the WASP our "thank you"--not in words, but in deeds. For their courage, service and dedication to our Nation, they deserve the most distinguished honor Congress can give: the Congressional Gold Medal.
FLOOR SPEECH--SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
Sen. Kay Hutchison [R-TX]: [Introducing S. 614] Mr. President, I rise today to introduce a bill that is sponsored by every woman in the Senate. All 17 of us have come together to introduce legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, called the WASP. Senator Mikulski and I are taking the lead on this with the other 15 women Senators to finally honor over 1,000 of the bravest, most courageous women in U.S. military history.
This is a picture of those brave World War II pilots. They were the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft. Between 1942 and 1944, they were recruited to fly non-combat missions so every available male pilot could be deployed in combat.
The women pilots who graduated from Army Air Force flight training earned their silver WASP wings in Texas. The first class graduated at Ellington Field in Houston and the remaining classes from Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX.
Throughout their service, these courageous women flew over 60 million miles in every type of aircraft and on every type of mission flown by Army Air Force male pilots except direct combat missions. Although they took the military oath and were promised military status when they entered training, they were never afforded Active-Duty military status, were never commissioned, and were not granted veteran status until 1977, over 30 years after they had served. All these women volunteered to serve their country in wartime. They paid their own way to Texas for training, and when victory seemed certain and the program was shut down, they paid their own way back home.
Over 25,000 women applied for the program, but only 1,830 qualified women pilots were accepted. Unlike the males, females were required to be qualified pilots before they could even apply for the Army Air Force's military flight training program. By the time the war ended, 38 women pilots had lost their lives while flying for their country. Their families were not allowed to have an American flag placed on their coffins.
I wrote about the WASP in my 2004 book, "American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country." I wanted to raise public awareness about these military pioneers who have had a tremendous impact on the role of women in the military today. Their examples paved the way for the Armed Forces to lift the ban on women attending military flight training in the 1970s and opened the door for women to be fully integrated as pilots in the Armed Forces.
Today, women fly every type of aircraft, from combat fighter aircraft to the space shuttle. However, despite their cultural impact, the WASP have never received honors, nor have they been formally recognized by Congress for their wartime military service--until now. We, the women of the Senate, are introducing legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the courageous WASP of World War II.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest and most distinguished award this body can award to a civilian. These women are certainly worthy.
There are precedents for this action. In 2000 and 2006, this body awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, respectively. Those heroes deserved the same type of distinction, and they, too, served in World War II and were finally appropriately honored by their Government. Now it is time for Congress to celebrate the courage of another group of remarkable Americans who served with courage and honor and whose example brought historic change to our Nation. Of the 1,102 WASP, approximately 300 are still alive today and are living in almost every State of our Nation. They have earned this honor, and the time to bestow the honor is now before any of them are away from us and not able to come to the ceremony which I hope we will have.
I am so pleased that every female Senator, all 17 of us, are cosponsors of this bill, and I hope the rest of our colleagues will also join and that we can pass this bill expeditiously.
I would like to take a moment, with this wonderful picture in the background, to read from the bill that we have just introduced today:
Congress finds that--
(1) the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, known as the "WASP", were the first women in history to fly American military aircraft;
(2) more than 60 years ago, they flew fighter, bomber, transport, and training aircraft in defense of America's freedom;
(3) they faced overwhelming cultural and gender bias against women in nontraditional roles and overcame multiple injustices and inequities in order to serve their country;
(4) through their actions, the WASP eventually were the catalyst for revolutionary reform in the integration of women pilots into the Armed Services;
(5) during the early months of World War II, there was a severe shortage of combat pilots;
(6) Jacqueline Cochran, America's leading woman pilot of the time, convinced General Hap Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, that women, if given the same training as men, would be equally capable of flying military aircraft and could then take over some of the stateside military flying jobs, thereby releasing hundreds of male pilots for combat duty;
(7) the severe loss of male combat pilots made the necessity of utilizing women pilots to help in the war effort clear to General Arnold, and a women's pilot training program was soon approved;
(8) it was not until August, 1943, that the women aviators would receive their official name;
(9) General Arnold ordered that all women pilots flying military aircraft, including 28 civilian women ferry pilots, would be named "WASP", Women Airforce Service Pilots;
(10) more than 25,000 American women applied for training, but only 1,830 were accepted and took the oath;
(11) exactly 1,074 of those trainees successfully completed the 21 to 27 weeks of Army Air Force flight training, graduated, and received their Army Air Force orders to report to their assigned air base;
(12) on November 16, 1942, the first class of 29 women pilots reported to the Houston, Texas Municipal Airport and began the same military flight training as the male Army Air Force cadets were taking;
(13) due to a lack of adequate facilities at the airport, 3 months later the training program was moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas;
(14) WASP were eventually stationed at 120 Army air bases all across America;
(15) they flew more than 60,000,000 miles for their country in every type of aircraft and on every type of assignment flown by the male Army Air Force pilots, except combat;
(16) WASP assignments included test piloting, instructor piloting, towing targets for air-to-air gunnery practice, ground-to-air anti-aircraft practice, ferrying, transporting personnel and cargo (including parts for the atomic bomb), simulated strafing, smoke laying, night tracking, and flying drones;
In October 1943, male pilots were refusing to fly the B-26 Martin Marauder, known as the Widowmaker, because of its fatality record. General Arnold ordered WASP director Jacqueline Cochran to collect 25 WASP to be trained to fly the B-26 to prove to the male pilots that it was safe to fly.
During the existence of the WASP, 38 women lost their lives while serving their country. Their bodies were sent home in poorly crafted pine boxes. Their burial was at the expense of their families or classmates. There were no gold stars allowed in their parent's windows, and because they were not considered military, no American flags were allowed on their coffins.
In 1944, General Arnold made a personal request to Congress to militarize the WASP, and it was denied.
On December 7, 1944, in a speech to the last graduating class of WASP, General Arnold said:
You and more than 900 of your sisters have shown you can fly wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. I salute you ..... We of the Army Air Force are proud of you. We will never forget our debt to you.
With victory in World War II almost certain, on December 2, 1944, the WASP were quietly and unceremoniously disbanded. There were no honors, no benefits, and very few thank-yous. Just as they had paid their own way to enter training, they paid their way back home.
After their honorable service in the military, the WASP military records were immediately sealed, stamped "classified" or "secret," and filed away in Government archives unavailable to the historians who wrote the history of World War II or the scholars who compiled the history textbooks used today, with many of the records not being declassified until the 1980s. Consequently, the WASP story is a missing chapter in the history of the Air Force, the history of aviation, and the history of the United States of America.
In 1977, 33 years after the WASP were disbanded, the Congress finally voted to give the WASP the veteran status they had earned, but these heroic pilots were not invited to the signing ceremony at the White House, and it was not until 7 years later that their medals were delivered in the mail in plain brown envelopes.
In the late 1970s, more than 30 years after the WASP flew in World War II, women were finally permitted to attend military pilot training in the U.S. Armed Forces. Thousands of women aviators flying support aircraft had benefited from the service of the WASP and followed in their footsteps.
In 1993, the WASP were once again referenced during congressional hearings regarding the contributions women could make to the military, which eventually led to women being able to fly military fighter, bomber, and attack aircraft in combat. Hundreds of U.S. servicewomen combat pilots have seized the opportunity to fly fighter aircraft in recent conflicts, all thanks to the pioneering steps taken by the WASP.
The WASP have maintained a tight-knit community, forged by the common experiences of serving their country during war. As part of their desire to educate America on the WASP history, WASP have assisted Wings Across America, an organization dedicated to educating the American public, with much effort aimed at children, about the remarkable accomplishments of these World War II veterans, and they have been honored with exhibits at museums throughout our country.
Now it is time to give these incredible women pioneers the Congressional Gold Medal, who, along with the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers, are people who have served with courage and valor to our country, and they are people who really have not complained. They are people who did their duty, even with some discrimination in the Armed Forces. But they were never bitter, and they always knew what a service they had given. We have now honored the Navajo Code Talkers and the great Tuskegee Airmen, and I hope we will also accord the greatest honor we can bestow as a Congress to the WASP of World War II.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
- HUTCHISON, TEXAS
- MIKLUSKI, MD
- FEINSTEIN, CA
- LANDRIEU, LA
- STABENOW, MI
- LINCOLN, AR
- MURRAY, WA
- COLLINS, ME
- SNOWE, ME
- BOXER, CA
- GILLIBRAND, NY
- SHAHEEN, NH
- MURKOWSKI, AK
- KLOBUCHAR, MN
- HAGEN, NC
- CANTWELL, WA
- MC CASKILL, MO
- HARKIN, IA
- BROWN, OH
- INHOFE, OK
- BURRIS, IL
- BYRD, WV
- CARDIN, MD
"Congressional Gold Medal sought for female pilots"
"They taught us how to fly, now they send us home to cry, 'cause they don't want us anymore." Those words are from a song made up in 1944 by one of the 1,102 women pilots who served during World War II as Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. The Army canceled the WASP program abruptly in December 1944, despite the amazing job these pilots did, flying every kind of aircraft the Army had, risking their lives to serve the nation. How wonderful that a bi-partisan group of Senators, led by Senators Hutchinson and Mikulski, has introduced a bill to give these brave women a long overdue honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. Let's hope Congress puts aside partisan differences and passes this bill promptly, while a wonderful exhibit about the WASP is still showing at the Women's Memorial (located at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery).
Note: The letter writer is author of YANKEE DOODLE GALS, a National Geographic book about the WASP.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
THE TORCH HAS BEEN LIT
Along with Senator Hutchison and original co-sponsor Senator Barbara Mikulski, D, MD, EVERY FEMALE
This is a long overdue honor for the WASP. Wings Across America had been working on this project for over a year with two high ranking officials in the Pentagon, but their efforts took on an entirely new engery and focus in November of 2008.
At the opening of the Wings Across America “Fly
She submitted a draft bill and convinced our Texas Senator and her staff that it was of the
"I am convinced every opportunity I’ve been afforded, from flying combat patrols in the skies over Iraq, to the honor of being a USAF Thunderbird, to representing the military as a Fellow, is because of these pioneering women. There couldn't be a more principled use of time and effort than seeking the Congressional Gold Medal for my personal heroines, the courageous WASP of WWII."
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? PREPARE TO PICK UP THE TORCH! Email, call or write your SENATORS AND your REPRESENTATIVES. Ask them to CO-SPONSOR S.614 honoring the WASP of WWII with the Congressional Gold Medal. THIS IS IMPORTANT. They pay attention to EVERY phone call and EVERY email. YOU could be the one who makes the difference. Congress has already awarded this prestigious honor to the Tuskeegee Airmen and the Navaho Code Talkers. It is now time for the courageous women pilots--who paid their way to serve their country--and preformed so valiantly in face of enormous challenges--to step into the national spotlight, where they have always belonged.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for our entire nation to
Do you need facts for your email? Visit WASP FACTS: http://www.wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp/facts.htm
Senator Hutchison’s website: http://hutchison.senate.gov/ (speech and bill information)
Senator Hutchison's Press Release : http://hutchison.senate.gov/releases.html
VIDEO: Senator Hutchison’s youtube site:http://www.youtube.com/user/SenatorHutchison (where the complete video will be very soon)
For Immediate Release: Contact: HUTCHISON/ Courtney Sanders (202) 224-9767
March 17, 2009 MIKULSKI/ Cassie Harvey (202) 224-0574
Sens. Hutchison, Mikulski Introduce Bill to Award
WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots
Congressional Gold Medal
Full Recognition of the Women Airforce Service Pilots is 50 Years Overdue
--All 17 Women in the Senate Cosponsor--
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), along with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), today introduced a bill to award the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II the Congressional Gold Medal. These women pilots have never received formal or public recognition for their wartime service to the United States. The bill was cosponsored by all 17 women in the U.S. Senate.
“More than fifty years have passed since the intrepid Women Airforce Service Pilots bravely served in World War II, but these women have yet to receive the recognition they deserve. Even without formal acknowledgement, their service paved the way for all women who serve valiantly in the military today,” said Sen. Hutchison. “Just as the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen served their country with distinction in World War II, and were subsequently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, it is appropriate for us to honor the service of the Women Airforce Service Pilots with Congress’ top award.”
“The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II were 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,” Sen. Mikulski said. “I am proud to co-sponsor this bill to right this wrong. For their valor, service and dedication to our nation, these women deserve the most distinguished honor Congress can give.”
“It was both an honor and a privilege to serve this country during some of the darkest days of World War II. I think it's important for young people today to realize that WASP flew missions that were dangerous, but in order for our country to be free, that's what it took, and we did it without any thought of recognition or glory. However, I believe I speak for every WASP when I say 'we are humbled by Senator Hutchison and her peers' desire to honor our service with the Congressional Gold Medal,” said WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish, Associate 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.
Also cosponsoring the measure were Sens. Feinstein (D-CA), Landrieu (D-LA), Stabenow (D-MI), Lincoln (D-AR), Murray (D-WA), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), Boxer (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Murkowski (R-AK), Klobuchar (D-MN), Hagan (D-NC), Cantwell (D-WA), and McCaskill (D-MO).