(Senate - July 22, 2009)

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[Pages S7865-S7866]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, today I am honored to recognize an 
exceptional group of women who served in World War II. When their 
country needed them, they answered the call and chartered a bold new 
course for women in the military. Sixty-seven years ago, over 1,000 
courageous women became the first in United States history trained to 
fly an American military aircraft. These women are known as the Women 
Airforce Service Pilots, the WASPs. Today we offer them our sincere 
admiration and deepest thanks.
  These women came to be known as the ``Fly Girls.'' They were 
patriots, they were pioneers, but above all they were pilots. They flew 
the same planes as their male counterparts, learned the same skills, 
and served the same country. They were among the first to fly the B-26 
Martin Marauder and the B-29 Super Fortress. The Fly Girls, however, 
served as civilians rather than as members of the Armed Forces. 
Civilian status prevented the Fly Girls from being recognized with 
their military counterparts. And the 38 brave women who died during 
their service were not honored with flag-draped caskets, nor could 
their families hang gold stars in their windows.
  Today we pause to recognize these women and their families with an 
honor that is long overdue and much deserved. I am proud to have been a 
cosponsor of S. 614, which authorized the awarding of the Congressional 
Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. This 
bill sailed through Congress in 3 months and on July 1, 2009, President 
Barack Obama signed Public Law 111-40, granting the highest civilian 
award to this deserving group of women.
  I am particularly proud of the Kansas women who served in this unique 
military force. Today we honor all those Kansas WASPs who have gone 
before us and recognize the two surviving Kansas WASPs, Meriem Anderson 
of Eureka, KS, and Marjorie Rees of Prairie Village, KS.
  The WASPs have never asked for our praise. When Rees was asked how 
she felt about being overlooked for so many years she simply responded, 
``We didn't resent that we were ignored so long. We've thought for 
years how very lucky we were to fly those wonderful airplanes.'' Her 
words express a quiet heroism, and remind us that the noblest act of 
sacrifice is the one that expects nothing in return. The 
accomplishments of these women, and the manner in which they have 
continued to conduct their lives, is a testament to their remarkable 
character. The thanks and recognition we offer them today pales in 
comparison to the gift they have given us--freedom.
  Their strength has inspired many other women to also look to the 
skies. MAJ Gina Sabric, an F-16 fighter pilot, voiced her appreciation 
to the WASPs when she said, ``Women in aviation has definitely been a 

[[Page S7866]]

stone progression, one that the WASPs started. Without them, it would 
have been a longer, tougher road. They set the stage for the rest of us 
to be able to continue what they started.''
  On behalf of myself, the State of Kansas, and the people of this 
great country, I wish to express my sincerest thanks to all of the 
WASPs for their brave and patriotic service in World War II. We are 
truly a grateful Nation.
  Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, today I recognize Ola Mildred ``Millie'' 
Rexroat and the six other women from South Dakota who served honorably 
during World War II as members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, 
  More than 1,000 women answered the call and served as pilots during 
World War II. Because WASPs records were classified and archived for 
over 30 years, WASPs have been left out of much of the documented 
history of World War II.
  On July 1, 2009, legislation was signed into law that honors the 
service of these women with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is 
given in honor of outstanding service to the United States and is one 
of the nation's highest civilian awards. This Congressional Gold Medal 
finally gives these women the honor they deserve.
  Between 1942 and 1944, the 1,102 women of WASP were trained in Texas, 
and then went on to fly noncombat domestic military missions so all 
their male counterparts could be deployed to combat. WASPs were 
required to complete the same primary, basic, and advanced training 
courses as male Army Air Corps pilots, and many went on to specialized 
flight training. By the conclusion of the war, WASPs logged 60 million 
miles of flying in every kind of military aircraft.
  Following the war, the WASPs were disbanded and the women pilots paid 
their own way home without pomp or circumstance. Even during the war, 
the families of the 38 women who died in the line of duty were 
responsible for the costs to transport their bodies and arrange 
burials. It was not until 1977 that the WASPs were granted veterans' 
  Ms. Rexroat is the last surviving member of the WASPs living in South 
Dakota, and she is believed to be the only female Native American to 
serve as a member of the WASPs in World War II.
  Ms. Rexroat spent part of her childhood living with her grandmother 
at Vetal, SD. She graduated from St. Mary's Indian High School for 
Girls in Springfield, SD. After college, she graduated from WASPs 
training in the ``1944-7'' class on September 8, 1944, at Sweetwater, 
TX. She then spent 4 months towing targets for students behind a T6 
plane at Eagle Pass Army Airfield, TX.
  Ms. Rexroat is 91 years old and still lives independently in 
Edgemont, SD. Her vivid memories of her service are inspiring, and I am 
proud to have cosponsored the bill to provide these women the 
Congressional Gold Medal and recognize their service here on the floor 
of the Senate today.
  While five of the other women are no longer with us, I would like to 
posthumously recognize the other women who joined from South Dakota: 
Helen (Anderson) Severson of Summit, SD, who was killed in service 
during a flight training accident in 1943; Marjorie (Redding) 
Christiansen of Mystic, SD; Loes (Monk) MacKenzie of Salem, SD; Laurine 
Nielsen of Deadwood, SD; and Maxine (Nolt) Wright DeHaven of Sioux 
Falls, SD. I would also like to recognize Violet (Thurn) Cowden 
formerly of Bowdle, SD.