This morning, Congress honored more than 200 WWII-era Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, during a special ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, presenting the women the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow.
House leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio), and Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were on hand to properly recognize the service of more than 2,000 total WASP pilots, alongside renowned American journalist and WWII documentarian Tom Brokaw and the first female Air Force Thunderbirds pilot, Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowshki.
In her remarks, Pelosi acknowledged that the honor was long overdue and entirely too late for many of the women who had volunteered to serve as WASPs, but that those who had gathered this morning for one of the U.S. Capitol's largest events in history continue to serve as an inspiration to subsequent generations of female service members and civic leaders.
"We are all your daughters," said Pelosi. "You taught us how to fly."
AMVETS was on hand for the historic occasion and veteran Deannie Parrish, who trained gunners during WWII, accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of her fellow WASPs.
Until this morning's ceremony, the WASPs were a little-known outfit that played a critical role in mobilizing American air forces during WWII.
As early as 1941, a vocal group of female civilian pilots recognized the need for a stateside auxiliary unit and lobbied heavily for the U.S. military to form a women's air corps whose mission would be to relieve male military pilots needed for combat duty.
After initial push-back from the U.S. Army Air Corps, the women were granted permission to start an auxiliary ferrying squadron and a training detachment, later merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.
Duties of the WASPs would include ferrying new U.S. war planes from factories around the United States to duty stations, assisting in training exercises, and even testing some of the latest technology, including the first jet-powered American aircraft. During their time in service, 38 WASPs made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
However, as a condition of their service in the WASPs, female pilots were not acknowledged as members of the military, which meant that they were not entitled to military and veterans' benefits, or military honors, should they be killed in action. Many of the WASPs were even forced to foot the bill for transportation, lodging and uniforms to participate in the program.
WASPs fought for decades for proper recognition from the U.S. military, but were unable to gain their rightful place in history until the classified records of their service were unsealed in 1977. That year, the WASPs were finally granted the same rights and privileges as their male WWII veteran counterparts.
This morning's ceremony was especially timely, considering March is Women's History Month. Throughout the month of March, AMVETS and American Veteran will be highlighting women's contributions to American military history and critical female veterans' issues.
Equity in women veterans' care is one of AMVETS' top legislative priorities for 2010.
If you want to share a story with us in honor of Women's History Month, please contact the AMVETS National Communications Department.
(Photos: Top: WASP Deannie Parrish accepts the Congressional Gold Medal during this morning's ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Ryan Gallucci. Bottom: WASPs Frances Green, Marget "Peg" Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leave their ship, Pistol Packin' Mama, at Lockbourne Army Air Field in Ohio during WWII. U.S. Air Force photo, released.)