A Long Overdue Salute

The Kansas City Star recently printed a story about women aviators in World War II who, on March 10, 2010, were finally recognized for their service during the war with Congressional Gold Medals, which is the highest civilian honor given by Congress. The women who were honored served as Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs, during the war. According to the article, these women volunteered to fly non-combat missions in order to help make male pilots available for flying overseas.

Their service was given quietly without thanks for many years. The WASPs only received Veteran Status in 1977, even though 38 women aviators were killed in service during World War II.  However, these women were not considered military and therefore they were not entitled to the same pay and benefits that male soldiers received. In fact, the article states: “That when the unit disbanded in 1944, many of the women had to pay for their own bus fare home from an airfield in Sweetwater, Texas. When some died on duty, it was fellow female aviators who helped pay their funeral expenses.”

My own grandfather served as a PT boatman in WWII and at his funeral, in 2004, there was a military salute and flag ceremony. While it’s always hard to lose someone you love, I can’t tell you the amount of pride and admiration felt by my family because Gumps (our nickname for my grandfather) had served in WWII and was being honored at his funeral for his service. It is inconceivable that women, like the WASPs, who served our country during the war, were not granted the same veteran status until over 30 years later, when some of them had already died without being recognized for their service.

These women, these WASPs, were among the first women in the military and helped pave the way for other females to serve.  There isn’t any blockbuster movies about them, no HBO series telling their stories; the WASPs and countless other women served their country in one of its greatest times of need, and many of their service’s have gone unrecognized and unwritten.  So in honor of the 2010 Women’s History Project’s theme Writing Women Back into History, I am doing a small part to make sure that these amazing women don’t get written out of history. So for all the WASPs and all the women who served in the military and who held together their families during World War II, Thank You.

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