First Female Airforce Pilots Get Gold Honor: 'I Never Thought It Would Happen'

Of the more than 50,000 women who applied, only 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 graduated from the training program. These women were stationed at 120 army air bases around the world, and flew a total of 60 million miles. Their duties involved everything from ferrying planes to training fighter pilots to chemical missions, but they were barred from actual combat.

Both Martin and Peyton say they were treated respectfully at their base in Texas, although they heard reports of discrimination in some bases on the East coast.

However, they admit that men weren't used to them being around the base.

WASPs Honored 66 Years After WWII

Despite the important role the WASPs played in the war effort, they received few benefits and little recognition.

Of the group, 38 women died in uniform. Their bodies were returned to the United States without any official ceremony and at the expense of their families, because they were officially civilians.

The rest of the women had to pay the expenses for their journey back home. The WASP records were sealed after World War II ended, until 1980, and the women in the program didn't receive veteran status until 1979.

Today's ceremony, lawmakers said, was part of the effort to right that wrong.

"This day comes too late for us," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "For too long, the proud service of the WASP was not recognized in word or in deed. Today we honor you as the heroes you are."

Mikulski praised the women for blazing the way for young women to join the U.S. Air Force.

"You answered the call of duty and you did it on your own dime," she said. "Today, because of your valor, because of your trailblazing, women are serving in the Air Force and the military. You really created this opportunity."

The women say it's high time their work is recognized.

"Over 65 years ago, we each served our country without any expectation of recognition or glory. We did it because our country needed us," said WASP Deanie Parrish, who accepted the award on behald of her fellow female pilots. "All we ask is that our overlooked history will someday no longer be a missing chapter... most of all in the history of America."

WASP Bernice "Bee" Haydu said she was overwhelmed by the recognition.

"I think it's just wonderful to finally be recognized," Haydu told ABC News. "We have been omitted almost entirely from the history books."

Both Martin and Peyton, who now live at the same assisted living facility in Sun City West, Ariz., are overjoyed at receiving medals.

For young women who want to follow in their footsteps, "don't give up," Martin advised.

"Stay with it," Peyton said. "Everyone thought we were crazy anyway."

That sentiment has changed considerably. In July 2009, President Obama hailed the work of the WASPs while signing the bill to award them the congressional medals.

"The Women Airforce Service Pilots courageously answered their country's call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave women who have given and continue to give so much in service to this nation since," Obama said. "Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the hard-earned recognition they deserve."

WASP Kathleen Hilbrandet, 86, said her own experience shows women can accomplish anything they want.

"If you really want to do something, don't get discouraged," she said. "Keep working toward the goal."

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