Waukegan pilot from World War II era honored posthumously
A former Waukegan woman who was a civilian pilot for the military during World War II was posthumously honored for her service Friday.
Janice Christensen was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. They flew military aircraft in noncombat missions, such as towing aerial targets for anti-aircraft gun practice, simulating strafing missions and transporting cargo.
Despite their military service, the women were denied veteran status until 1977. Christensen died in a car accident in 1965.
Her family worked with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider's staff to secure a World War II Victory Medal and a Women Airforce Service Pilots medallion from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for Christensen.
Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, presented the decorations to the pilot's family Friday at her grave at the Northshore Garden of Memories cemetery in North Chicago.
"Janice was a trailblazer and a patriot, and I am so grateful to be here to finally recognize her as a veteran, a distinction she sadly never saw in her own life," Schneider said.
The WASP program operated from 1943 to 1944. Out of more than 25,000 applicants, only 1,074 women participated in the program.
"They were elite," Schneider said.
Thirty-eight of the pilots died in the line of duty.
Christensen served in Michigan and Georgia. After her wartime service, she was involved with the Waukegan Civil Air Patrol and joined the Air Force Reserve, serving until she retired as a captain in 1963.
Members of a local Civil Air Patrol Cadets troop participated in Friday's program. So did members of the Waukegan High School Junior ROTC, which presented a flag to one of Christensen's sisters.
A bugler played taps, too.
In addition to the ceremony, Schneider honored Christensen with a lengthy statement in the official Congressional Record.
"It is a privilege to properly recognize Captain Janice Christensen on behalf of a grateful nation for her service to our country during World War II," Schneider said in the statement. "Her services were of great value to the Army Air Forces during the war."