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World War II Women Aviators to Receive Congressional Medals

The first women to fly US military aircraft will be awarded with Congressional Gold Medals today on Capitol Hill. The first female aviators flew domestic military aircraft during World War II. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor Congress can give civilians, according to the Associated Press. The Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, was formed in 1942 despite initial hesitation of Army Air Corps Chief Lieutenant General Henry “Hap” Arnold to let women fly, according to the Air Force Times. There were a total of 1,102 women aviators during WWII, and 38 of them lost their lives during the war. About 130 of the 300 women WASPs alive today will attend the medal ceremony. WASP pilots were given permission to fly domestic aircrafts in order to free male aviators to fly overseas. These women test-flew every aircraft of the time, reported the Air Force Times, including the B-26 bomber, nicknamed the “Widowmaker.” Despite their efforts, WWII women aviators did not receive any military benefits or honors. WASP was disbanded in December 1944 and the records were kept classified. However, with the help of former Lieutenant General Arnold’s son, Colonel Bruce Arnold, and former Senator Barry Goldwater (AZ-D), Congress eventually recognized WASP pilots as veterans in the 1970s. According to the Air Force Times, Deanie Bishop Parrish, one of the original women aviators, and her daughter Nancy, interviewed 110 former WASP pilots during the 1990s, resulting in “Fly Girls of World War II,” an exhibit currently on display at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sources:

Air Force Times 2/23/10; Associated Press 3/10/10

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