442nd Airmen help honor World War II WASPs

Betty Wall Strohfus, a Women Airforce Service Pilot from Minnesota, sings the "Star-Spangled Banner" during the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the Capitol March 10, 2010. More than 200 WASPs attended the event, many of them wearing their World War II-era uniforms. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Betty Wall Strohfus, a Women Airforce Service Pilot from Minnesota, sings the "Star-Spangled Banner" during the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the Capitol March 10, 2010. More than 200 WASPs attended the event, many of them wearing their World War II-era uniforms. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Betty Wall Strohfus, a Women Airforce Service Pilot from Minnesota, displays her copy of the Congressional Gold Medal at the Capitol March 10, 2010. More than 200 WASPs attended the event, many of them wearing their World War II-era uniforms. The audience, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted was one of the largest ever in the Capitol and too large to fit into Emancipation Hall, also included their families, as well as the families of those who have since died or couldn't travel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Betty Wall Strohfus, a Women Airforce Service Pilot from Minnesota, displays her copy of the Congressional Gold Medal at the Capitol March 10, 2010. More than 200 WASPs attended the event, many of them wearing their World War II-era uniforms. The audience, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted was one of the largest ever in the Capitol and too large to fit into Emancipation Hall, also included their families, as well as the families of those who have since died or couldn't travel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Five Airmen from the 442nd Fighter Wing traveled to Washington, D.C. to serve as escorts to the Women Airforce Service Pilots and attended their Congressional Gold Medal ceremony, March 10, 2010.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest award Congress bestows to civilians in the U.S.

"These women finally received the long-overdue recognition they deserved, and it is just in time as it is nearing the end of the World War II generation," said Maj. Olivia Elliott, 442nd FW pilot.

More than 200 WASPs attended the event, many of them wearing their World War II-era uniforms.

Among the five escorts were Major Elliott and Chief Master Sgt. Carol Tripp, 442nd FW operations superintendent.

"Listening to the speakers gave me goose bumps and brought tears to my eyes," said Major Elliott.

She had the pleasure of escorting Elizabeth "Betty" Wall-Strohfus, 90, hailing from Minnesota. Betty's nine family members were in attendance at the ceremony.

"Betty and her family were absolutely amazing, and I will never forget them," Major Elliott said. "I made friends for life."

Additionally, Chief Tripp escorted Barbara Hart-Kennedy and echoed her experience with WASPs members.

"I have had many extraordinary experiences in my career, but the WASP ceremony ranks pretty high up there," she said. "It was really that rewarding and amazing."

Major Elliott said she is proud and honored to be able to stand on their shoulders, which allows her to do what she loves.

"The WASPs were the trailblazers and broke down many barriers for women in uniform," she said. "The WASPs clearly sacrificed and portrayed loyalty and patriotism with such grace. My life is easy compared to what these ladies had to go through. They did it without complaining and didn't expect to be lauded at the end of it all."

Adding to Major Elliott's remarks, Chief Tripp said many of the WASPs were not angry or disappointed about the long-overdue recognition.

"For a lot of these ladies, it's not that they didn't understand what was going on, but they didn't necessarily understand that it was such a big deal," Major Elliott said. "Betty's family understood that it was a big deal, but to her generation, what they did was for their county, not for recognition."

Joining Major Elliott and Chief Tripp were Tech. Sgts. Shannon Kennedy and Nicole Willeford, 442nd Mission Support Squadron and Senior Airman Sarah Knauff, 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

According to Major Elliott and Chief Tripp, they returned to Missouri, and took home with them a lifetime of memories.

The 442nd Airmen also left their mark.

"Our WASP gathering in D.C. was absolutely wonderful," Mrs. Wall-Strohfus said. "Seeing so many of our gals again was such a blessing and forever treasured. The respect and care we received from our military escorts was outstanding. Thank you and may God bless each of you."