Updated: Friday, 12 Mar 2010, 10:55 AM EST
Published : Wednesday, 10 Mar 2010, 12:12 PM EST
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.(WOOD) - The recognition was a long time coming, but for Mildred Doyle and Suzanne Parish, the wait was worth it.
Thirty-eight of them were killed in service. But they were long considered civilians, not members of the military, until 1977 when they were afforded veteran status.
It's estimated that about 300 of the women are still alive. About 200 attended the ceremony Wednesday.
Doyle and Parish join other Congressional Gold Medal winners that include George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Howard Hughes, Irving Berlin, Dr. Jonas Salk, Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, Joe Louis, Billy Graham, Frank Sinatra and Gerald Ford, among others.
WASPs were the first women to fly military planes. Theirs were non-combat missions but they were not missions without danger. Thirty-eight WASPs were killed on duty.
One of Doyle's jobs was to take planes out for test flights after male pilots reported problems and the planes were sent in for service. She was in line to fly a B-26 with what's called a towed target.
"The B-26 had a target that they trailed behind -- a sleeve -- and it was live gunnery that would shoot at it for gunnery practice," Doyle said. "So they used the women for that."
But just before her B-26 work was set to begin, the WASPs were disbanded, because, in late 1944, Congress voted against giving the women military status.
They didn't get veterans status until the late 1970s. Now, after a bill passed in the House and Senate was signed by President Barack Obama in July 2009, the WASPs are getting more recognition: the Congressional Gold Medal.
"It's quite an honor to receive it," Doyle said.
Parish has remained connected to flying her whole life. She co-founded the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.
Parish and Doyle plus Dorothy Eppstein and Doris Nathan in Kalamazoo and Sylvia Granader in Beverly Hills are the WASPs still living in Michigan.
To learn more about the WASP and other female pioneers in aviation, visitors can check out the Daring to Dream: Women in Aviation exhibit located in the Air Zoo’s East Campus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.