Almost 66 years after her death in service to her country, OCW alum Paula R. Loop was among 1,114 WASPs who received the Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest civilian honor -- in March.
Loop was one of 38 WASPs who died in service to her country. There are about 300 surviving WASP pilots nationwide. Family members received the medals for those who had passed away.
"This Congressional Gold Medal honors the remarkable accomplishments, courage and sacrifice of a distinct group of women in the United States military," congressional members said in a joint statement.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, a co-sponsor of the legislation to honor the WASPs, said it was well deserved.
"These extraordinary women were part of a select group of American pilots who became pioneers, heroes and role models," Walden said. "The Congressional Gold Medal they are being honored with is evidence of their pioneering military service and exemplary record, which forged revolutionary reform in the U.S. Armed Services."
Loop was a 1937 graduate of the Oklahoma College for Women (now USAO) with a degree in commerce. In 1942, one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Loop joined the WASPs, where she received her silver wings the following year.
After graduating from OCW, Loop pursued a master’s degree at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College in Stillwater.
While working in Ponca City, she was awarded a flight scholarship in 1940 under the Civil Air Authorities, which entitled her to 35 hours of flying and a private pilot’s license – the first woman in Oklahoma to do so. Maintaining an average grade point average of 94.9, she had her first solo flight on Sept. 22, 1940.
In December 1942, Loop entered the WASP training program at Ellington Field, near Houston. She received her wings on May 28, 1943.
Loop also was a member of “The 99s,” an elite national organization of women aviators whose roster includes Amelia Earhart and several other famous women in aviation history.
On July 7, 1944, Loop was killed at the age of 27 during a flight from Enid to Seattle, Wash. The BT-13 plane she was delivering crashed near Medford, Oregon.
Though the military did not recognize Loop or any other of the 37 women who died while in service to the WASPs, Tinker Air Force Base dedicated a building to her in Midwest City in 1980. Loop was named posthumously to the Oklahoma Aviation Hall of Fame in 2002.
Approximately 25,000 women signed up for the program when it was launched in 1942, but only 1,074 completed the training. The WASPs ferried planes across the country, towed targets for shooting practice and moved war materials.
They flew everything that had wings — fighters, bombers, transport and training aircraft. Their pioneering work has been credited with opening doors for women to become military pilots today. However, the WASPs were denied veteran status until 1977.
Paula R. Loop was among 1,114 WASPs who received the Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest civilian honor -- in March. On July 7, 1944, Loop was killed at the age of 27 during a flight from Enid to Seattle, Wash. Loop was a 1937 OCW graduate with a degree in commerce.