November 7, 2003 – The names of the 38 WASP killed in service during WWII read into the Congressional Record
Nearly twenty years have passed since November of 2003, and much has transpired over the last two decades to bring long overdue national recognition to the Women Airforce Service Pilots. With Memorial Day commemorations on the horizon at the end of this month, this May’s blog carries something of a somber tone with it because it is written in memory of the 38 WASP who died in service to their country during the Second World War.
While recently going through some of my photos on CDs, I pulled one out of its jewel case titled, “38 WASP-Congressional Record, November 11, 2003”. I sat at my computer and placed the disk into the player to look at the pictures stored on it. About 100 images popped on the screen and they were images of a commemoration that was held on Veteran’s Day at Long Island National Cemetery for the 38 women who died in training and on active duty as WASP during World War II
The day of the commemoration was preceded by a letter that I had written to my then congressman, Rep. Steve Israel that summer, asking for his support in honoring the 38 WASP. I had met Congressman Israel several times as a volunteer at the American Airpower Museum on Long Island and I was impressed with his work advocating for veterans both past and present.
Within a few weeks I was contacted by Rep. Israel’s assistant. She asked me to come to the office where I was told that Congressman Israel would be reading the names of the 38 WASP into the Congressional Record in the House of Representatives, as well as introducing a Resolution to honor the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
Three months later on November 7, 2003, Congressman Israel stood in the House of Representatives and read the 38 names into the Congressional Record Proceedings and Debates of the 108th Congress First Session, ‘Honor Women Airforce Service Pilots’, and on November 11th Rep. Israel submitted H. Con. Res. 321, ‘Honoring the service and achievements of the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II’; which was referred to the Committee on Armed Service.
On November 11, Veteran’s Day Rep. Steve Israel presented the Congressional resolution recognizing the deaths of 38 Women Airforce Service Pilots before a delegation of two surviving WASP, Eleanor C. Faust and Margaret W. Gilman (44-10), Leslie ‘Sass’ Levine, daughter of the late Fran Laraway Smith (44-4), WASP instructor, ‘Frank’ Duffy, Veterans of Foreign Wars and 38 students, each holding a lily representing the lives lost.
After the National Anthem with a Marine Color Guard, I stood at a podium and read the Forward from ‘In Memoriam, The Thirty-Eight’’(written by Dawn Seymour 43-5) and then introduced Congressman Israel who spoke of the 38 WASP before formally presenting the framed Congressional Record and H. Con. Resolution 321 to me. I was then introduced by Rep. Israel and asked to read the names of each of the 38. Upon completing the reading of names, we paused for a moment of silence and then a P-47 Thunderbolt from the nearby American Airpower Museum flew overhead in tribute.
Following the presentation Rep. Israel greeted Margaret and Eleanor, the students, American Airpower Museum volunteers, and attending guests. Having discovered earlier that Long Island National Cemetery was the final resting place of WASP, Rita M. McArdle (who had passed on in 1998.), Congressman Israel, myself, and the 38 students walked to over to her grave and each of us placed a lily by her granite marker.
As fate would have it, Rita had once ferried P-47 Thunderbolts in the skies above the grounds on which we stood that day. We paused before her marker, bowing our heads, and we remembered the 38 WASP who lost their lives in service to their country. We gave our thanks to Rita for her service, and for the service of all her ‘sister-WASP’, on that Veteran’s Day, 60 years later.
Written by: Julia Lauria-Blum
Photos courtesy of: Julia Lauria-Blum/Nancy Epstein Photography
About Julia Lauria-Blum:
Julia Lauria-Blum earned a degree in the Visual Arts at SUNY New Paltz. An early interest in women aviation pioneers led her to research the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII. In 2001 she curated the permanent WASP exhibit at the American Airpower Museum (AAM) in Farmingdale, NY, and later curated ‘Women Who Brought the War Home, Women War Correspondents, WWII’ at the AAM. She is the former curatorial assistant & collections registrar at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island and is currently editor-in-chief for Metropolitan Airport News.
Julia is the proud mother of two daughters and a rescued Boxer. Her many interests include swimming, painting, traveling, aviation history, cooking, and storytelling.