Tonight’s Cold Case was pretty interesting. It was the story of a WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilot) in 1944 whose plane and remains were found when a pond was being emptied. The Cold Case crew discovered that she had been murdered. The rest is history, or so I thought. At the end of the show, mention was made of the fact that on July 1, 2009, President Obama and Congress presented 1,073 WASPs with the Congressional Gold Metal.
Like most things dealing with honoring WWII vets, this award was a long time coming. If you recall, the WWII Memorial was only dedicated a little more than five years ago. These women were highly resented as women in uniform. The fact that they could fly only added insult to injury. Their service was seen as doing men’s work back in those days. They only flew non-combatant flights yet 38 were killed in the line of duty.
This service branch started in 1942 and between 1942 and the end of the war more than 1000 women joined up. Today, only about 300 are still alive. Still, they must have been thrilled to finally have their efforts formally acknowledged.
According to the U.S. Airforce website:
Women’s Airforce Service Pilots Elaine Danforth Harmon, Bernice Falk Haydu and Lorraine H. Rodgers were joined by five female current Air Force pilots in the White House Oval Office to witness the president sign into law a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP.
“The Women Airforce Service Pilots courageously answered their country’s call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave women who have given and continue to give so much in service to this nation since,” President Obama said. “Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the hard-earned recognition they deserve.”
The WASP was established during World War II with the primary mission of flying noncombat military missions in the United States, thus freeing their male counterparts for combat missions overseas. They were the first women ever to fly American military aircraft and they flew almost every type of aircraft operated by the Army Air Force during World War II, logging more than 60 million miles.
Being in the Oval Office while the president signed the bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP was exciting and “an honor,” Ms. Harmon said. “It’s really nice that all these women will be honored for their service.”
“We didn’t join the WASP looking for recognition, but were just doing what was needed during the war,” she said. “Most everyone else in the country worked hard too and did their part to contribute to the war effort.”
When young female pilots thank Ms. Harmon or call her a pioneer, she admited to feeling slightly embarrassed and thoroughly impressed with today’s military women aviators.
Congratulations and thank you to these fly ladies. You all were real pioneers and sky trail blazers.
World War II was probably the least controversial of all of the American Wars, yet those men and women, both combatant and civilian have been the last recognized. I know my father who was a veteran of WWII never lived to see the WWII Memorial, and he lived to be 80. What was it about that war that took long to honor so many of those who sacrified? Was it that those people expected nothing? How was this war different from all others?