Lois Auchterlonie shows friends and family her Congressional Gold Medal as she returns from Washington D.C.
Auchterlonie is one of only 12 women in Washington awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Flying planes during World War II was not easy for any pilot but for the more than 1,100 women who flew, the job was also underappreciated.
This past week in Washington D.C. 300 of the remaining Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Obama.
Lake Stevens’ own Lois Auchterlonie, 92, was among the 12 WASP who live in Washington State, she attended the event with her niece Giulia Watier and Watier’s mother Linda Auchterlonie. The ceremony took place in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol building on March 10.
“This is a wonderful experience,” Auchterlonie said.
Watier got to see first-hand, what an impact her aunt’s life had on the country she served.
“It was amazing,” Watier said. “She’s always just been my aunt and to get to see her as a piece of American history—I have such a respect for the whole woman. She is truly a walking piece of history.”
The Auchterlonie women walked around Washington D.C. and were treated like royalty as they ran into school groups on field trips. The students wanted to have their pictures taken with an American hero.
“It was like walking around D.C. with a rock star,” Watier said.
Auchterlonie lives at Ashley Pointe in Lake Stevens where she was greeted by her friends when returning from her trip.
“We are all proud of her at Ashley Pointe for this great accomplishment that she has achieved,” Debbie Cooper, Activity Director at Ashley Pointe said.
Between 1942 and 1944, the women of WASP were trained in Texas, then went on to fly non-combat military missions so that all their male counterparts could be deployed to combat.
These women piloted every kind of military aircraft, and logged 60 million miles flying missions across the United States. They were never awarded full military status and were ineligible for officer status.
Following the war, the women pilots paid their own way home. And for the 38 women who died in the line of duty, their families were saddled with the costs to transport their bodies and arrange burials. It was not until 1977 that the WASP participants were granted veterans’ status.
“These brave pilots have empowered and inspired decades of women service members who have followed in their footsteps,” Senator Patty Murray said. “They took flight at a time when the idea of women aviators was thought not only improbable, but impossible. They risked their lives, but for too long their service has not been recognized. As trailblazers for our nation’s military, these women belong in the company of The Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers as Congressional Gold Medal Award recipients.”
Because of women like Auchterlonie and the other WASP, the way was paved for women to be allowed into the military flight-training program in the 1970s. It eventually led to women being fully integrated as pilots in the military.
“The Women Airforce Service Pilots are unsung members of ‘The Greatest Generation.’ They were trailblazers who had a tremendous impact on the role of women in the military today,” said Senator Maria Cantwell. “By honoring these American heroines with the Congressional Gold Medal, we bestow long-overdue recognition for their courage, loyalty and service to our nation. These women brought about a historic change in our armed services and our nation.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded by Congress and, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the highest and most distinguished honor a civilian may receive. The award is bestowed for exceptional acts of service to the United States or for lifetime achievement. Once approved by Congress, the U.S. Mint designs and creates each gold medal so that it uniquely represents the individual or event being honored. The original medal is then displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.