By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 2, 2009 – President Barack Obama yesterday signed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Air Force Service Pilots of World War II, the first women in American history to fly military aircraft. More than 60 years ago, they piloted fighter, bomber, transport and training aircraft with the primary mission of flying noncombat military missions in the United States, thus freeing their male counterparts for combat missions. But their contribution went largely unrecognized for years; they were not even acknowledged with veteran status until 1977. “The Women Air Force Service Pilots courageously answered their country’s call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave women who have given and continue to give so much in service to this nation since,” Obama said. “Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the hard-earned recognition they deserve.” From 1942 to 1943, more than 1,000 women joined the unit, and 38 of them made the ultimate sacrifice in performing its mission. This legislation, which passed the Senate and House in recent months, confers proper recognition on the women’s achievements, its sponsors said. “The Women Air Force Service Pilots of World War II are trailblazers and true patriots,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, said. “They risked their lives in service to our nation, but for too long their contribution to the war effort has been undervalued or under recognized.” After the Senate passed the bill May 20, Mikulski issued a news release hailing its successful journey on Capitol Hill. “I am so pleased both houses of Congress have now come together to right this wrong, and to finally give these courageous women the proper recognition they deserve,” she said in the release.