Anyone who served the United States of America in WWII is haled as a hero. From the paratroopers to the soldiers on the ground to the pilots. All except for the female pilots. That’s right. If you’re saying “What female pilots?” you are one of many. When the local young men proudly joined up to serve their country, so did a group of women pilots. In 1942, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was created by our military due to the plain fact that they needed more pilots in a time of war. Thousands of brave young women responded to the call and just over 1,000 women became WASP’s.
On Wednesday, Congress attempted to right a wrong by honoring the WASP’s who served in WWII with the Congressional Gold Medal. Their only 65 years late and fewer than 300 of those women are alive today to see that recognition. Thirty-eight women died during their service and did not receive a military burial.
As a history buff, I was always interested to hear the events of WWII as my classes covered it. As a woman, I am shocked that these women were forgotten from history. That I was not given the chance to learn of them. A chance for all young women to be proud of their history and dent on America. What does that say about our society if the heroic courage exhibited by the WASP’s is pushed under the rug? It is a reminder that we still have a long way to go in equalizing women’s rights. I’m not simply referring to the fact that women still earn less than men. I’m referring to incidents such as these where historically significant women are forgotten and ignored by the masses. The military. The media. Textbooks. Not once have I read a passage beginning with “my mother proudly served in WWII.” “Equally brave were the women who joined…” Certainly not in my education.
Why are these women being publically honored now? You guessed it. Female Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, Barbara Mikulski and Congresswomen Susan Davis and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen made it possible by making it a priority of Congress.
During the ceremony at The Capitol on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 Sen. Barbara Mikulski stated, “You gave America your lives, your love and your devotion and today Congress will give you the gold.” The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
The contributions that the WASP’s made during WWII stayed hidden due to the fact that the records were conveniently classified. Although the media did cover the training of WASP pilots, they were forgotten quickly. It was not until the 1970’s, that the WASP’s received full military status and a WWII Victory Medal. Why? The WASP’s banded together and lobbied Congress to grant the basic right of recognition as veterans and received military status these women were never granted in the past 35 years. Fast forward 30 more years to today. Although I am more than thrilled that their contributions are being officially recognized by America, the military, and the media, it is unsettling that it had to pursued for so many years.
Deanie Parrish, a former WASP declared at the ceremony, “We did it because our country needed us…all we ever asked for was that our overlooked history would some day no longer be a missing chapter in the history of WWII, in the history of the Air Force, in the history of aviation, and most especially the history of America.”
To learn more information on these amazing women and their stories, check out WASP on the web.