Hundreds of surviving women who served as military pilots in WWII will be presented with the Congressional Gold Medal this Wednesday, March 10, including Santa Barbaran Carol Brinton Selfridge.
Selfridge, now 92, was one of the first women in history to fly United States military aircraft, as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She will travel with her family to Washington D.C. to take part in the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, in Emancipation Hall at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
At first, the military denied the women who wanted to fly planes in the military, but let them train starting in 1942, when the need for pilots increased and the men were in combat. Selfridge is one of 1,102 women—out of 25,000 that applied—who completed training and participated in flying test planes, ferrying military personnel, hauling targets, and delivering supplies during WWII. (They were not allowed to fly in combat.) These women not only had to pay their own way through training, they also had to collect money to send fallen women home, and paid for their own way back home when disbanded in 1944.
The WASPs weren’t granted military veteran status until 1977. In fact, this is the first time that the U.S. government will formally honor them for their service. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas is responsible for making this ceremony possible, having introduced a bill in early 2009 requesting formal recognition of the service that the women performed without acknowledgement. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on July 1, 2009 and the ceremony is fittingly being held during this month’s Women’s History Month.
Three hundred of the original WASPs are still alive, and about half of those are expected to attend the ceremony. Seventy-nine of the pilots are from California. Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught (USAF, Ret.), president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation, which is hosting the event at the capitol, is quoted in an official press release saying, “The Women’s Memorial was built so that the American public, and the world, could come to know about the over 2.5 million women who have served in the nation’s defense.”
Selfridge has not only helped pave the way for women military aviators today, but leaves a legacy. Her granddaughter, Lt. Col. Christy Kayser-Cook, has now been flying in the military for over 20 years. Selfridge will be escorted on her three-day trip across the country by her daughter and son-in-law, starting Monday, March 8; and her grandchildren and great grandchildren will all be in attendance at the ceremony on Wednesday. In a recent phone interview, Selfridge proudly said that the honor has been a big celebration, “Everyone I know is very excited about this and it’s very important and special for my family to go to D.C. for the ceremony.”