by Cindy Gerow, A Special Ed nurse at Oakridge School

“This March, as our nation celebrates Women’s History Month, a special group of women gathered in Washington, filling the massive Emancipation Hall of the new Capitol Visitors Center to receive long overdue recognition for their pioneering service to our nation during World War II. These inspiring heroines were the first women to fly military aircraft and blazed a trail in the sky that opened the door for today’s women military pilots. In a moving ceremony, the 300 surviving members of the WASP received the highest civilian honor Congress can give – the Congressional Gold Medal – in front of the largest crowd to ever attend an event inside the Capitol”, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, from Wings and Wasps, March 22, 2010

WASP stands for Women Air Force Service Pilots, the first women in U.S. history to fly American military aircraft.

During World War II, these intrepid “Fly Girls” voluntarily put their lives on the line in an experimental program to prove that women could successfully fly military aircraft. They received no rank or military honors for their service. WASP flew 60 million miles. They flew every type of military aircraft—from the fastest fighters to the heaviest bombers—and they piloted every type of mission flown by their male Army Air Force counterparts, except combat. That was their mission: to relieve male pilots for combat duty from non-combat, yet essential missions.

My mother's name was Marjorie Redding Christiansen.

Jacqueline Cochran, who set up the WASP program for General Hap Arnold, was going to the larger cities getting names of women who wished to enroll in the WASP. It was required that these women already have a pilot's license. Mom had learned to fly in college and belonged to the Civil Air Patrol.

Being from small towns, Mom and her friend decided to go to Texas, and get to see Jackie. They enlisted and were assigned to class 44-3. When she graduated she was going to Dodge City, Kansas to train on B-26's, but orders were changed. She was sent to Independence Army Air Force Basic Training School for Air Force Cadets. She flew the North American BT-14s that were repaired, and flew non-flying officers on administrative duty. She flew cross country many times. She flew all of the military aircraft that were in use at that time except she never did get to fly the B-26, which she felt a little bad about. She wanted to fly them all!

WASP were stationed at 120 Army air bases across America. They flew B-26s and B-29s—to prove to male pilots that those planes were actually safe to fly. Numbering only about 1,000, this group of extraordinary women will forever continue to serve in a way none can deny them: WASP were the role models for every generation of female pilots and astronauts that takes off after them.

They forever changed the role of women in aviation.

The two photos are my brother, Frank Christiansen, me and my sister, Teena Taylor. The three of us (out of 6) were able to go back for the ceremony. It was a wonderful experience. We wish Mom could have been there in person!

I am sure she was in spirit, she let us know that she was close!

There were a lot of descriptive things said about them...

"Trailblazers", "they had unprecedented Matzee!" "Humble and selfless", "lived life on the cutting edge of aviation", "they were gutsy and daring", "pioneers of the sky", Nancy Pelosi said, "Once the WASP took to the sky the world was never the same"...They were called "mighty of spirit", "a rare group in rare times”, “feisty old broads"....

I don't know that my mom could ever be called a "feisty old broad" but they are all very much alike.... honorable, dependable, daring, willing to do everything asked of them. They were (and are) very patriotic. They wanted to help their country and the war effort.

They have an air about them when you are among them. They are tough but tender, quiet but exuding pride, strong little ladies with silver hair. Many of them were wearing their original WASP uniforms. Their strength and their gratitude were in the air in the Emancipation Hall. They quietly, modestly accepted the medal and were somewhat overwhelmed with all the publicity.

When Deanie Parrish, the WASP who accepted the medal, spoke she said, "We did it because they needed us! It was a privilege and an honor to serve our country. We didn't do it for recognition." But, you could tell they were all VERY PROUD!

"When it was disbanded, they turned in their parachutes, packed their bags and paid their own way home."

I have always been very proud of my mom but I thought my chest was going to explode in that ceremony. She was one of a group of very beautiful and strong women! I hope I have learned a small inkling of what she had to teach!

Cindy and her husband Orville live in Goshen. They have three children, Jennifer Nielson, Chelsea Lee and Don Gerow. and eight grandchildren.

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