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Decades later, women pilots from World War II get their due

WASPS – Women Airforce Service Pilots – received the Congressional Gold Medal for the missions they flew during World War II.

Wearing her WASP uniform from World War II, Eleanor Brown of Victoria, Texas, attended a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Capitol Hill Wednesday to honor the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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It took them more than 60 years to be recognized after their government attempted to hide their service, but on Wednesday, hundreds of female pilots who flew missions during World War II finally got their due.

More than 1,000 civilian female pilots or WASPS – Women Airforce Service Pilots – were given the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony on Capitol Hill. The “strength, spark, and unprecedented moxie” of female pilots helped fill the pilot shortage stateside as men were sent overseas to fly combat missions, Rep. Susan Davis (D) of California, said at the ceremony.

These women volunteers, many of whom have since died, paid for their own pilot training and served the military during the early years of World War II in hopes of joining the military. They tested and ferried aircraft, freeing men for combat flying.

IN PICTURES: WASPS: Female pilots in World War II

Instead, two years later, the program ended and the women were summarily sent home when the military didn’t need them anymore. Their service was effectively sealed from the public for years. Then the US Air Force announced in 1976 that female pilots would begin flying jets for the first time, essentially negating the WASP program.

That angered many of the female pilots, who promptly organized an effort to have their story told. Later, their records were opened, and last year President Obama signed a bill to honor the women with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. About 300 of the pilots who are still alive were invited to Washington for the event.

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