March 18, 2009
You don’t see much bipartisanship in Washington these days, but yesterday all 17 female members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, introduced a bill (S. 614) to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. The medal, previously given to groups like the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers, is the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. The bill would award it to all 1,102 WASPs—the 300 still living or their surviving family members.
In introducing the legislation, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said she “wanted to raise public awareness about these military pioneers who have had a tremendous impact on the role of women in the military today.” Hutchison, who wrote about the WASPs in her 2004 book, American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country, said:
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.
Co-sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland added:
[The WASPs] 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.