Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune last night joined his Senate colleagues in passing legislation (S. 614) honoring the more than 1,000 women who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal, given in honor of outstanding service to the United States, is one of the nation's highest civilian awards.

"The WASPs served our country with extraordinary bravery, even in the face of discrimination," said Thune. "Their service was essential to the war effort, and this recognition of their heroics is long overdue."

The last surviving South Dakota WASP is Ola Mildred Rexroat of Edgemont, who is believed to be the only female Native American to serve in World War II. Ms. Rexroat is one of six South Dakotans to serve in the WASPs.

WASPs flew essential non-combat missions so that all of their male counterparts could be deployed in combat situations. WASPs were required to complete the same primary, basic, and advanced training courses as male Army Air Corps pilots, and many went on to specialized flight training. By the conclusion of the war, WASPs logged 60 million miles of flying.

Unfortunately, the service of the WASPs did not receive adequate recognition in the years following the war. WASPs were not granted veterans' status until 1977.

"Because WASPs records were classified and archived for over 30 years, they have been left out of much of the documented history of World War II," added Thune. "This Congressional Gold Medal finally gives these women the honor they deserve."

Senator Thune is a cosponsor of the Senate resolution.