Magazine article American Heritage

Winning Gold at Last: After 65 Years, the Nation's First Female Military Pilots Receive Their Due

Magazine article American Heritage

Winning Gold at Last: After 65 Years, the Nation's First Female Military Pilots Receive Their Due

Article excerpt

ON MARCH 10 HUNDREDS of active-duty female U.S. Air Force pilots accompanied more than 200 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) into the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center's 580,000-square-foot marble and glass Emancipation Hall for a long-overdue ceremony. Many of the WASP veterans had donned their original World War II navy blue uniforms without letting out a seam. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked these women, now in their 80s and 90s, to stand up and be recognized for their role as a homefront Army auxiliary--and as the first women to fly military planes. Each surviving WASP, nearly a quarter of the original group of 1,074 women who graduated from the program, received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest honor for distinguished achievement.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When these women talk about their service during World War II, it is the fighter planes and bombers, cross-country ferrying missions, and test piloting of experimental models that they most readily recall. Breaking a glass ceiling or trailblazing those were motivations far from their minds when they joined up. But during two days of ceremonies, it was the role of these pilots in the emancipation of American women--especially military women that came into sharp relief.

"Their story helped write my story," said 36-year-old Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, a U.S. Air Force officer and the first female pilot selected to fly as part of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Thunderbirds. "I came in on their shoulders." She vividly remembers seeing photographs of these women in their open-cockpit, single-propeller planes when she was 12: "I saw that my dreams weren't wrong." A champion of the cause to win the Congressional Medal for the WASPs, Malachowski wrote the first draft of the legislation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.