World War II women pilots to receive Dole Leadership Prize

The 2010 Dole Leadership Prize will be presented to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as WASP, of World War II on Oct. 3 at the New Century AirCenter, Heart of America Wing near Olathe. More than 1,000 women served in WASP in World War II. They were the first women to serve as pilots and fly military aircraft for the U.S. Army Air Forces, and they flew more than 60 million miles.

“The WASP played a critical, and, until fairly recently, unheralded role in World War II,” said Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute. “It is fitting that our first group award of the Dole Leadership Prize should be part of the Greatest Generation.”

The event will begin with family activities at 1 p.m., including a display of historic aircraft and free refreshments. The program will begin at 2 p.m., where three WASP — Bernice Haydu, Dawn Seymour and Jean McCreery — and Katherine Landdeck, professor of history at Texas Woman’s University, will be interviewed by Lacy.

Between 1942 and 1944, at the height of World War II, more than 1,000 women left homes and jobs for the opportunity of a lifetime — to become the first women in history to fly for the U.S. military. They volunteered as civilian pilots in an experimental Army Air Corps program to see if women could serve as pilots and relieve men for overseas duty. Originally, 25,000 women applied to the program; 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 graduated from training. These women became the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, better known as the WASP. Under the leadership of Jacqueline Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love and Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, the WASP succeeded beyond all expectations.

The WASP were originally stationed at the Howard Hughes Municipal Airport in Houston, Texas, but were transferred to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, in 1943. They received seven months of training, the same as male cadets. The WASP were then stationed at 120 Army air bases across the United States, where they flew 78 types of aircraft, every aircraft the Army Air Corps flew, including the B-29. However, in 1944, with more than 900 women on duty, the WASP were deactivated because of military budget cuts.

Between 1944 and 1977, WASP, along with other supporters and state representatives, worked to have their service be officially recognized and no longer classified as “civilian.” In 1977, a bill officially declared the WASP as “having served on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States for purposes of laws administered by the Veterans Administration.” In 1984, each pilot was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, and those who served for more than one year were also given the American Theater Ribbon and American Campaign Medal.

On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the bill that would lead Congress to award WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. The WASP received the medal on March 10 2010 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The Dole Leadership Prize is a $25,000 prize that is awarded annually to an individual or group whose public service inspires others. This year’s cash award will be given to Texas Woman’s University to enhance the online availability of the WASP collection. Texas Woman’s University is home to the WASP national archives and is an integral facilitator of the WASP legacy.

WASP are the first group to receive the Dole Leadership Prize. Previous winners include former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former U.S. Sens. Howard Baker and George McGovern, former Polish President Lech Walesa, Congressman John Lewis and former President George H.W. Bush.

The program is free and open to the public. Parking at the New Century AirCenter is also free. For more information on the Dole Institute of Politics or the Dole Leadership Prize, visit

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