On March 10, 2010, the U.S. Congress awarded Congressional Gold Medals to more than 200 women who served during World War II; but, who never got the recognition they so richly deserved. Until now.
The women are the surviving members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). They left their homes to serve their country, paying their own way to travel to training facilities, and ended up in all manner of roles. They towed targets for gunnery practice. They trained their male counterparts to fly. They were not allowed into actual combat; but, some did lose their lives.
After the war was over, the service was disbanded and the women were sent on their way. Again, they had to pay for their own transportation home. They did not receive military benefits, nor recognition of their service. But, they did it to serve their country.
Mildred Eckert of Mason was one of the women who stepped up to serve, and one who received the honors belatedly given to them on March 10th. The following is her story.
Mildred Eckert Carder (known as Mimi) was born in Mason, Texas on July 31, 1921 to Kinney Eckert and Zilla Wood Eckert. She was an early member of the Methodist Church South and educated in Mason Schools. She graduated in 1938 and immediately entered the University of Texas. Her Junior year she decided to take private flying lessons. Many of her relatives and the town folks thought her mother and her daddy had lost their minds! Because U. of T. offered a program called Plan I and Tri Semester she graduated in 3½ years. From U. of T. she went directly to the Corpus Christi Naval Base where she was a Link Instructor. Her claim to fame was being the instructor of the very popular Hollywood star Tyrone Power. Mildred stayed there until the Women Airforce Service Pilots was formed. They trained at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Tx. The first women to enter had to have 200 hrs. or more. There were very few of these so next came the ones with 100 hours that were allowed to enter the program - few of these also. Then the ones with 35 hours or Private could begin, of about 25,000 women who applied fewer than 1,100 got their wings. During W. W. II 31 were killed. They had very tough and stringent physical training and many "washed out" at this time. Upon graduation they were given wings, lovely uniforms and expected to wear them at all times. Mildred was assigned to be stationed at Stuttgart Air Force Base in Stuttgart, Ark. There she received $202 a month with no benefits. The 31 who lost their lives in line of duty were buried at family expense. Also at the time of de-enactment each WASP had to pay for her bus ticket home.
These women were informed last spring (2009) that each would be given Congressional Gold Medals of Honor in a ceremony with the President and several high ranking Government officials. It was to be held outside on the Mall for guests of honor and all family members with a reception following the ceremony. When the March 10, 2010, date came they were awarded bronze medals, 2 guest tickets, no reception. Instead it was held in the Capital and any other relatives were allowed to watch inside rooms on TV. This brought sad thoughts to many WASP's because so many of the group were 85 to 92 and the cold weather and location prevented many from coming.
Mildred married CWO John T. Carder whom she met while also at Stuggart Air Base. They remained in the Air Force and retired in his home town of Johnson City, Tenn. where they became tobacco farmers. They have 2 sons, Pat and Kenn Corder, 3 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. After John's death Mimi moved to Patriots Colony, an officers retirement complex in Williamsburg, VA. where she still lives. She comes to Mason yearly and is the sister of Carolyn Smith.