A picture of Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Ileana R.
Republican FL 27

About Rep. Ileana
  • Women Airforce Service Pilots

    by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

    Posted on 2016-01-11

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    ROS-LEHTINEN. I am so pleased, so honored, so humbled to be part of your Special Order. In the short time that you have been in Congress, you have been a real leader on so many important issues, and I think none as important as the one that you are spearheading today.

    I rise today to support you in your mission to give due recognition to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, otherwise known as WASPs, not the other WASPs that you know about. These are the real ladies that got the job done. They are a remarkable group of women who served our country proudly during World War II.

    As you heard from the other speakers, our country turned to female pilots to deliver planes to our military air bases overseas, tow targets for live antiaircraft artillery practice, and simulate strafing missions. They became the first women in U.S. history to fly for our proud military.

    Out of more than 25,000 women who applied for the program, only 1,704 were accepted in noncombat roles. These courageous American women logged in more than 60 million miles between 1942 and 1944, but it wasn't until 1977 that Congress passed legislation that gave these patriotic women their much-deserved veteran recognition.

    In 2002, Arlington National Cemetery decided to allow WASPs, among others listed as Active Duty designees, to receive benefits consistent with the status that they had so rightfully earned. However, the Department of the Army recently rescinded this decision and made these brave women aviators of World War II ineligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

    As the author of the legislation--and the gentlewoman and I have talked about this repeatedly--awarding WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal in the year of 2009, I am honored to stand with my friend and colleague, Congresswoman Martha McSally, a true patriot in her own right, to ensure that the WASPs have the right to have these services alongside the rest of our war heroes. These patriotic women selflessly helped defend our country. They deserve full military honor.

    I am humbled and proud to represent south Florida, and I would like to inform the gentlewoman that this has been home to some of these remarkable heroine women. I am going to mention some of their names: Frances Rohrer Sargent, Helen Wyatt Snapp, Ruth Schafer Fleisher, Shirley Kruse, and Bee Haydu. Some are with us, and some are no longer with us. Some are not in great shape because they served in World War II. It is happening throughout our Nation where we see our finest passing away.

    In this time of great challenges to women, those women that you have there before us, they pushed beyond the boundaries. They brought new opportunities for women to come.

    My daughter-in-law, Lindsay, she flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Marines, but she would not have been able to do so without the women who came before her. Just as you are a pioneer--to the gentlewoman I say thank you for your patriotic duty--but you stand also on their shoulders. These pioneers fought for the values of freedom and democracy. It is our duty to ensure that they are not denied the recognition for their service.

    We shouldn't be begging for this. With the valiant efforts of these American heroines, the United States and our allies were able to successfully defeat the Axis Powers during World War II.

    I thank you, Congresswoman McSally, for introducing this important legislation that would make the Women Airforce Service Pilots eligible, once again, for the services in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. I agree with you that we don't need the legislation; that tonight, the Secretary of the Army could do the right thing, as he had done before, sign the order making this happen.

    We will continue the battle in their names. Thank you so much to the gentlewoman. Thank you for spearheading [[Page H263]] this effort. Thank you for taking this on. You are a valuable member of this institution. Thank you for the time.

    Ms. McSALLY. I want to thank the gentlewoman from Florida. As soon as I mentioned it to Ileana, she was like: This is wrong. We have got to get involved. We have got to fix this.

    So I appreciate your strong advocacy before I got here, and your continued advocacy as a wingwoman in this cause.

    You know, for the WASPs in this story and this cause, it is not just the right thing to do for the country. For me, it is also personal. These women opened the door for me to be able to be a pilot in the Air Force and, when the doors were opened, to transition to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force.

    I will be honest with you, I didn't hear about them when I was in high school. This is one reason why it is so important that we allow them to be laid to rest in Arlington, so that it is part of the education for future generations.

    It wasn't until I went off to the Air Force Academy that I actually learned about the WASPs and learned about what they did. I just didn't even imagine that we would have women military pilots in the 1940s in World War II, but we did.

    I got to meet some of these amazing women when I first came to Tucson to fly the A-10 Warthog, started my training. There were several of them that lived in southern Arizona, and I got to become friends with them, and they became mentors to me and encouragers to me.

    As the doors were opening up for us to transition into fighters, there was hardly anybody we could really look to who understood what it was like to be in challenging circumstances where you are the only woman. People have attitudes about whether you can or cannot or should or should not do what you are doing as an aviator. But these women understood that. They put up with the same biases and the same discrimination as they served. They flew in World War II.

    As I was looking around for someone to have as a role model, these women were incredible friends to me and supporters and wingwomen to me.

    Here is one picture I want to show you. This is Ruth Helm, one of the Tucson residents who, sadly, made her final flight over the last year. This is when she was inducted into the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame. This is a picture of the two of us in civilian clothes as she was inducted there.

    {time} 1945 These women paved the way for me, but they encouraged me. Even at my most challenging times, when I was feeling discouraged, I would sit down with them, and they would just fire me up to live to fight and fly another day.

    Despite the fact that they were told to leave the military after all they did, they still were proud. They didn't have a chip on their shoulder. They were grateful for the opportunities that they had. They laughed off some of the challenges that they went through. They just started encouraging me, ``Come on, you can do it. We did it.'' I just was able to kind of get back in there and continue to push forward because of what they did before me to open up the doors for me.

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