President Barack Obama on July 1 signed S.614, a bill to award the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. The WASP, the first group of women to fly military aircraft for the United States, reported for duty more than three decades before women in the United States were allowed to attend military pilot training with full military status.
“The Women Airforce 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.”
To release male pilots for combat duty overseas, the 1,102 WASP flew military aircraft in the United States during World War II. Fewer than 300 are alive today; three of those women joined the president in the Oval Office as he signed the legislation. Five active duty United States Air Force pilots who followed in their footsteps—including Major Nicole Malachowski, who was instrumental in promoting the bill—were also present for the signing.
Congressional legislation is required to make the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, and two-thirds of each chamber must sign on as co-sponsors. Along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it is the nation’s highest civilian award.