Commentary: Female WWII pilots finally honored for service

On March 10, a Sacramento grandmother of four will share in a Congressional Gold Medal honoring women for flying warplanes a lifetime ago, when women weren't supposed to fly.

At 87, Barbara Kennedy is coming to terms with a ceremony scheduled for the majestic rotunda of the U.S Capitol. How can she be a pioneer when she never considered herself one?

"Just because we were women, we shouldn't get a medal," Kennedy said Tuesday.

But they were and they will. Kennedy is among the last survivors of the Women Airforce Service Pilots — WASPs — a group of civilian women who flew planes stateside for the government during World War II.

Until recently, the WASPs largely had gone missing from the pages of U.S history. Nearly 30,000 applied for the wartime program, but only about 1,000 earned their wings — young women who tested planes, ferried aircraft from factories to military bases, and performed other duties so men could fly combat missions overseas.

Kennedy was barely 20 when she took to the skies, a graduate of Sacramento High School and a student at the University of California, Berkeley. When she told her parents she wanted to be a WASP, they did an amazing thing — they supported her.

"I think my dad would have loved to have gone with me," she says wistfully. "My parents were wonderful. They let me pursue whatever I wanted."

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