Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune applauded the World War II-era Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) who today received the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Building. Ten women with significant ties to South Dakota served as WASPs during World War II, with two surviving today.

“The WASPs showed tremendous dedication in serving our nation, and this recognition is well deserved and long overdue,” said Thune. “I applaud all of the surviving WASPs who were present at today’s ceremony, and I thank the families who attended in honor of those who have passed away. The service of these extraordinary women will not be forgotten and serves as an inspiration to all Americans to this day.”

Among the surviving WASPs who lived in South Dakota is Ola Rexroat of Edgemont, who is believed to be the only female Native American to serve in World War II. Violet Thurn Cowden of Bowdle and Ola Rexroat are the only surviving South Dakota WASPs. Helen Anderson Severson, Marjorie Monk MacKenzie, Laurine Nielsen, Maxine Nolt Wright DeHaven, Anna Ross Kary Anderson, Irma Cleveland Weigel, and Margaret E. Twito all served, but are now deceased.

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 public recognition for their service.”

Senator Thune cosponsored the Senate resolution authorizing the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal.