WASP Receive Congressional Gold Medal

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010, roughly 300 former Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) attended a ceremony on Capitol Hill to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for service to their country during World War II. The first minted medal was printed in gold and awarded ceremoniously. It will find its home at the Smithsonian. Surviving members received individual replicas of the medal, made of bronze. More than 60 years since they served their country as the first women trained to fly United States military aircraft, some 800 medals had to be awarded posthumously to surviving family members. The total number of medals awarded was 1,114, representing 1,102 WASP, plus 11 who died in training. One more medal was awarded to Jacqueline Cochran, founder of the WASP, and now deceased. The medal is awarded by Congress and is the highest honor a civilian may receive, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The intent of the WASP program was to free up male combat pilots from stateside duty during the war. But ultimately it "served as a catalyst for revolutionary reform in the integration of women pilots into the Armed Services," according to the Hutchison-Mikulski bill that first proposed awarding the medal. The bill was sponsored by 334 representatives when it passed the House in June. It had passed the Senate in May with the support of 75 co-sponsors. The medal is bestowed for exceptional acts of service to the United States. During their service, the women tasked with every mission but combat. They were never awarded full military status and were ineligible for officer status. "We did it because our country needed us," 88-year-old Deanie Parrish of Waco, Texas, said at the ceremony. WASP were not granted veterans' status until 1977. The medal was custom-designed and printed by the U.S. Mint.