Cantwell Hails WWII Women Pilots For Receiving Highest Civilian Honor
Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined members of Congress in honoring the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) with Congressional Gold Medals for their service during World War II. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest congressional honor a civilian may receive. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presented the awards to about 200 women, including 11 from Washington state. The ceremony took place in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol building.
"The Women Airforce Service Pilots are unsung members of "The Greatest Generation.' They were trailblazers who had a tremendous impact on the role of women in the military today," said Senator Cantwell. "By honoring these American heroines with the Congressional Gold Medal, we bestow long-overdue recognition for their courage, loyalty and service to our nation. These women brought about a historic change in our armed services and our nation."
The WASP program was launched during World War II to train civilian women to fly military aircraft in non-combat missions because so many male pilots were deployed overseas. These women pioneers paved the path for future female pilots who have pursued careers in wanted to join the Armed Forces.
Of the more than 1,000 women who received their wings through the WASP Program, approximately 300 are still alive; 11 of them live in Washington state. Among those from Washington, Mary Call from Mount Vernon, Nancy Dunnam from Bellevue, Dorothy Olsen from University Place, Mary Sturdevant from Tacoma, Josephine Swift from Seattle, Alta Thomas from Sequim, and a relative on behalf of Margaret Martin from Oak Harbor, attended the ceremony. Cantwell is working with the Women's Memorial Foundation and her colleagues in the Washington state congressional delegation to ensure the remaining four women who could not travel to Washington, DC, for today's ceremony receive their medals.
Over the past 60 years, WASPs have received little recognition for their accomplishments. Today all will be awarded a bronze duplicate of the original Congressional Gold Medal. Each medal is designed to specifically commemorate the individual or event being honored. The original gold medal will be donated to the Smithsonian Institution in honor of the WASPs. The WASPs have also been honored at an exhibit in the Seattle Museum of Flight.
Cantwell was one of the early Senate to co-sponsors of legislation to recognize these women for their tremendous achievements. All 17 women in the Senate co-sponsored the bill, and on May 20, 2009, it passed unanimously. President Obama signed the bill into law in July 1, 2009.