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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

To Capitol Hill now, and a gold medal ceremony today: the Congressional Gold Medal. It's the highest civilian honor Congress can give, and it was awarded to a group of women who, during World War II, became the first women ever to pilot U.S. military aircraft. Known as Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, these 1,100 women flew noncombat missions to free up men to fight overseas. Thirty eight WASPs died in service. Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison called them true trailblazers.

Senator KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (Republican, Texas): Today, we right a wrong and acknowledge our debt to these great patriots, women who are so worthy of this award and this recognition.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

About 300 WASPs are thought still be alive. About 200 - some in uniform, some in wheelchairs - traveled across the country to attend today's ceremony. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presented the awards, saying the WASPs prove that for women the sky was not the limit.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): Women Airforce Service Pilots, we are all your daughters. You taught us how to fly. We thank you for that and for what you did in flying to make us the home of the brave and the land of the free. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: WASP Deanie Parrish accepted the medal for all the women. She said the WASPs volunteered not for glory, but because their country needed them.

Ms. DEANIE PARRISH (Former Women Airforce Service Pilot): All we ever asked for is that our overlooked history was some day no longer be a missing chapter in the history of World War II, in the history of the Air Force, in the history of aviation and most especially the history of America.

NORRIS: You can read essays shared by the children of these groundbreaking pilots plus take an audio tour of one pilot's rare color photos. That's all at our Web site: npr.org.

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