Local, female World War II pilot honored posthumously for service

April 01, 2010

EXETER - When the late Frederica McAfee Richardson took to the skies over 65 years ago, she did so as a pioneer, a patriot and a hero. On Wednesday afternoon, she was honored for her service to the country with its highest civilian honor.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Wednesday presented Richardson's husband of over 50 years, Artemas, with the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of Frederica's service as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the first women in history who were trained to fly American military aircraft.

Frederica, who lived in Exeter and other local towns, died in 2004 at age 86.

She was one of approximately 1,000 WASPs who served during World War II by flying non-combat missions in the United States so more male pilots would be ready for combat operations overseas. The members of WASP flew almost every type of aircraft operated by the Air Force during World War II and logged more than 60 million miles.

In 1943, she received her commercial pilot's license and served as a member of the 3rd class of WASPs by towing targets for the 20mm and 90mm anti-aircraft fire and working with some of the early aircraft drones.

Shaheen, D-N.H., an original co-sponsor of a bill to award Congressional Gold Medals to the WASPs that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 1, 2009, presented the medal at Langdon Place. The law was designed to recognize the sacrifice and achievement made by the WASPs, of whom 38 were killed during duty. Even during their time in the WASP, the women maintained civilian status and weren't afforded veteran status until 1977.

"It took nearly 65 years for the WASPs to receive the recognition they deserve, but today we take another step here in New Hampshire by fully honoring the service of these remarkable women," said Shaheen.

"Frederica really was a member of a very small, elite group of women who made such an incredible difference in the war effort. I'm pleased that we're finally giving these women the recognition that they so rightly deserve, and I think we owe them all a real debt of gratitude. ... I'm pleased that we're finally able to honor that service to America."

"It was a very significant time for her, and we are all very proud of what she had to do and what she did," said Artemas, "and I'm sure she's with us here today."

Ann Richardson Howland, Frederica's eldest daughter, said the day held added significance as it marked the sixth anniversary of her mother's death.

"It's a very emotional day for the family, and I'm just very touched and proud to see so many people here," she said.

"My mother to me was always bigger than life," said Howland. "She had such great strength, and she passed that strength along to us and she never lost it.

"As WASPs, they were always taught when they lost one of their own it was always, 'Get back in that plane and get back in the sky,' and that's the way she approached life by dealing with what you have on your plate and moving on," she said.

"She taught us to rely on ourselves and push ourselves beyond our limits, just as she had done when she forged a path and went soaring into the sky," she said.

Frederica's son, U.S. Navy Capt. Stanley Richardson, said it was a tremendous honor to see his mother recognized for the service that went far beyond herself.

"I think, on an individual basis, my mom would say she was just doing what she was supposed to do," said Richardson. "She always said she was allowed to do not only what she was supposed to, but something which was tremendous fun that she got to do with people who were terrific and courageous.

"We were always aware and we always had a sense that what she did was different from that which other moms had done, but beyond that all, she was an exceptional mom," said Richardson. "Not because of what she'd done, but because she was an exceptional person, and I think that's what we particularly remember."

In addition to the family and friends in attendance, a large contingent of members from the N.H. Air National Guard were on hand, as well as members of the Exeter Fire Department.

"It's really fitting to not just have the Exeter Fire Department, but also so many members of the Guard here to recognize Frederica's exploits and truly wonderful contributions that WASP pilots made to World War II and this country's history," said Shaheen.

By:  Joshua Clark
Source: Foster's Daily Democrat