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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

U.S.

Elizabeth Prann

Atlanta, GA

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Surviving WASP Members Honored

March 9, 2010 - 5:51 PM | by: Elizabeth Prann

Bee1An elite group of women is being awarded the highest civilian honor on Capitol Hill today. They belong to a group of trailblazers called Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. They were first women to fly U.S. military planes during World War II. 

Today, less than 300 survive and about 200 are expected to be at the Capitol at 11AM Wednesday. That’s when the women will be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. The medal is the highest award Congress gives to honor civilians for achievements and contributions to society.  

During WWII there were more than 1,000 of these female pilots. Despite their civilian status, these women trained as military cadets did. They did activities ranging from driving an ambulance to dragging artillery targets behind their planes for shooting practice, as well as testing runways and spotlights for accuracy. All of which was very dangerous. Thirty-eight were killed in service. Despite the casualties and efforts, WASP members remained under civilian status and not members of the military during the war. These women weren’t given veteran status until 1977.

WASP, Bernice “Bee” Haydu, made a stop in Atlanta Tuesday before arriving in Washington. There, she met with a new generation of female pilots following in her footsteps. She was greeted by an all-female crew, including a navy combat veteran.

Each crew member said spending time with Haydu is an honor. They say her passion, courage and dedication are an inspiration. To them, not only did these women help win a war; they also won a battle for women.

Yet Haydu insisted that she is impressed too.

“I am really in awe of the young women who fly today, especially large aircrafts like this one. They’ve got some many buttons and gadgets. Their training must be much more rigid than what we received,” she said.Bee2