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The Associated Press: Fla Female Pilots Get Congressional Gold Medals

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<br>The Associated Press: Fla Female Pilots Get Congressional Gold Medals

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen presented the women with original copies of the bill honoring the WASPs signed by President Barack Obama. Snapp did not attend the ceremony due to illness.

She said the WASPs now join the ranks of the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, who at the time of their service were discriminated against because of their race.

"What's most inspiring is knowing that they never did it to break any barriers or change history," Ros-Lehtinen said. "They just loved to fly and wanted to do so in defense of our country."

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ruth Shafer Fleisher says she was born to fly. At 13, the daughter of an airplane mechanic was already logging flight hours, piloting any type of plane she could get her hands on.

Little did she know her teen passion would lead her to become one of the first female pilots who protected U.S. coasts from enemy threats during World War II.

Decades later 87-year-old Fleisher and two other South Florida women, Frances Rohrer Sargent, 90, and Helen Wyatt Snapp, 91, received Congressional gold medals this weekend for their service as pilots during World War II.

The three former Women Airforce Service Pilots are among the more than 1,100 female pilots who logged 60 million miles in noncombat missions between 1942 and 1943. Their service freed up male pilots to fight combat missions abroad.

Fleisher tested AT-6 warbirds. After the WASPs were disbanded in 1944, she received a commission to join the Air Force as second lieutenant and retired in the Air Force Reserve as a major. She later became one of the first women to work in a control tower at Philadelphia International Airport.

The women said it was sometimes difficult to be taken seriously. Jobs for women during that time were mostly limited to nursing, teaching and office work. Even as Airforce Service Pilots, they weren't eligible for U.S. veterans' status until 1977 and they were never awarded full military status.

"It was hard because people didn't think about women flying," said Sargent, who flew well into her 70s. "But we didn't care; we did what we wanted to do."

Thirty-eight of their fellow female pilots died while protecting U.S. coasts.

During the war, Sargent flew along North Carolina's shores, on the lookout for enemy ships, submarines and planes. She later joined the Air Force Reserves and spent 30 years teaching aviation at Miami Dade College.

She and Fleisher had moved to South Florida about four decades ago. Fleisher manages a three-acre avocado grove and Sargent lives in a retirement home.

"We, as some of the first women pilots, proved that we could fly military airplanes and do a good and decent job," Fleisher said.

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen presented the women with original copies of the bill honoring the WASPs signed by President Barack Obama. Snapp did not attend the ceremony due to illness.

She said the WASPs now join the ranks of the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, who at the time of their service were discriminated against because of their race.

"What's most inspiring is knowing that they never did it to break any barriers or change history," Ros-Lehtinen said. "They just loved to fly and wanted to do so in defense of our country."


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