News Releases

Murray Co-Sponsors Legislation to Award Pioneering Women Aviators the Congressional Gold Medal

Mar 18 2009

Twelve surviving members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II currently live in Washington State

(Washington, D.C.) - U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) today announced that she has co-sponsored a bill to award the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II the Congressional Gold Medal. These women pilots have never received formal or public recognition for their wartime service to the United States. Of the 1,102 women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Twelve surviving WASPs currently live in Washington state.

“These brave pilots have empowered and inspired decades of women service members who have followed in their footsteps,” said Senator Murray.  “They took flight at a time when the idea of women aviators was thought not only improbable, but impossible. They risked their lives, but for too long their service has not been recognized. As trailblazers for our nation’s military, these women belong in the company of The Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers as Congressional Gold Medal Award recipients. “

Between 1942 and 1944, the 1,102 women of WASP were trained in Texas, then went on to fly non-combat military missions so that all their male counterparts could be deployed to combat. These women piloted every kind of military aircraft, and logged 60 million miles flying missions across the United States. They were never awarded full military status and were ineligible for officer status. Following the war, the women pilots paid their own way home. And for the 38 women who died in the line of duty, their families were saddled with the costs to transport their bodies and arrange burials. It was not until 1977 that the WASP participants were granted veterans’ status.

The example set by the Women Airforce Service Pilots paved the way for the armed forces to lift the ban on women attending military flight training in the 1970s, and eventually led to women being fully integrated as pilots in the U.S. military. Today, women fly every type of aircraft and mission, from fighter jets in combat to the shuttle in space flight.

Of the 1,102 women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. The Congressional Gold Medals will be awarded to all 1,102 pilots and/or their surviving family members.

The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded by Congress and, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the highest and most distinguished honor a civilian may receive. The award is bestowed for exceptional acts of service to the United States or for lifetime achievement. Once approved by Congress, the U.S. Mint designs and creates each gold medal so that it uniquely represents the individual or event being honored. The original medal is then displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.

The legislation, which was introduced yesterday was authored by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Mikulski. Also cosponsoring the measure were Sens. Feinstein (D-CA), Landrieu (D-LA), Stabenow (D-MI), Lincoln (D-AR), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), Boxer (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Murkowski (R-AK), Klobuchar (D-MN), Hagan (D-NC), Cantwell (D-WA), and McCaskill (D-MO).

This week, Senator Murray also introduced bi-partisan legislation to improve care at the VA for women veterans.  –  Details