March 10, 2010

Gillibrand Honors WWII’s Unsung Women Heroes – Five New Yorkers Honored In Washington, DC Today

65 Years After Service, First Women Military Pilots Finally Receive Congressional Gold Medal

Washington, DC – After 65 years, five New York trailblazers who represent the first women pilots to fly U.S. military aircraft during World War II finally received national recognition for their service. Senator Gillibrand honored New York’s heroic Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal today.

Senator Gillibrand said, “Recognition for these unsung World War II heroes is long overdue. For decades, the pioneers who have laid the groundwork for future women aviators here in New York and beyond were forgotten. Today, these women pilots, many of whom are now grandmothers and great-grandmothers, continue to inspire generations of women and are finally getting the honor they deserve.”

The following is a list of New York Women Pilots Who Received a Congressional Gold Medal:

  • Katherine Willinger, 90, Manhattan (New York County)
  • Katherine Kornblum, 92, White Plains (Westchester County)
  • Eleanor Faust, 87, Orient (Suffolk County)
  • Margaret Gilman, 86, North Hills (Nassau County)
  • Dawn Seymour, 92, Naples (Ontario County)

According to the Women’s Memorial, there are approximately 28 New York WASP members, a majority of whom have passed away.

Between 1943 and 1944, over 1,000 women pilots trained and flew 60 million miles in military aircraft during World War II. Part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, each of these women who actively served in the Army Air Forces, ferrying fighters, bombers and completing dangerous noncombat missions, freed up a male pilot for combat service overseas.

Unlike their male counterparts, WASP did not receive military status and were not entitled to any veterans benefits until 1977. The 38 women pilots who had lost their lives during service did not have military honors at their funerals. The U.S. government did not cover the cost for the remains to be shipped home to their families. 

Last March, Senator Gillibrand joined with all 17 female members of the U.S. Senate to introduce legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest Congressional distinction given to a civilian, to all WASP pilots.  The legislation passed both Houses and was signed by the President on July 1, 2009. 

The historic service of WASP pilots demonstrated that they were just as capable as male pilots and ultimately led to the integration of women pilots.  Today, women in uniform fly every kind of aircraft – from helicopters to the space shuttle – thanks to the efforts of these World War II veterans.