State

Jardine: Gold medals go to female pilots

From the e-mails, voice mails and good old-fashioned phone calls:

LONG OVERDUE -- Count Modesto's Adeline Ellison among the estimated 200 surviving members of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots who received Congressional Gold Medals at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., 66 years after they ended their contribution to the World War II effort and 33 years after being recognized as military veterans.

Another WASP from Stanislaus County, 86-year-old Doris Wanty of Oakdale, couldn't make the trip for health reasons but sent family members on her behalf.

The presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest honor Congress can bestow upon civilians -- took place in the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presiding.

"The ceremony was nice," said Ellison, 90. "Tom Brokaw was there."

One real gold medal will go on display in the Smithsonian Museum. Individually, the WASPs received gold-colored replicas made of bronze.

Ellison said she was thrilled to receive the recognition, wishing only that it had come in time for so many others who served. Of the 1,074 WASPs, about 300 remained when President Barack Obama signed the bill in July to honor them.

"Of course, we've lost a whole bunch of them since Obama signed the thing," Ellison said. "It took so damned long -- 66 years. One girl (Henrietta Sproat of Oroville), she couldn't come, so she sent her daughter. She brought her mom the medal. Mom looked at it and died the next morning."

Working as civilians during World War II, the WASPs flew military planes at home to free male pilots for combat duty. They flew everything from training planes to C-47 transports to B-17, B-24 and B-25 bombers. They flew them from the manufacturers to points of departure for the war zones. They flew them from base to base, all over the country.

But as civilians, they received none of the respect accorded members of the military. Families of the 38 WASPs killed in the line of duty had to pay to bring their bodies home for burial and were not allowed to drape an American flag over the casket. And when the program ended in 1944, the pilots had to pay their way home.

The ceremony in Washington couldn't right those wrongs, but the women finally did get their hard-earned and well-deserved recognition. They joined the Navajo Code Talkers (2000) and the Tuskegee Airmen (2006) as Congressional Gold Medal recipients.

DRIP SYSTEM -- Last week, former Modesto City Schools Trustee Steve Collins let his fingers do the walking as he looked for plumbing suppliers. He found several under the heading of "Plumbing Fixtures & Supplies Whsle & Mfrs." Among them, the Republican Party of Stanislaus County.

Huh?

I found the same listing in either or both of AT&T's Real Yellow Pages or the Valley Yellow Pages dating back to the 2007 directories.

So I called Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, chairman of the county Republican Central Committee, to find out what happened.

"It was supposed to be under 'Political organizations,' " DeMartini said. "We knew it last year and asked them to change it. And I'm surprised to see it, because somebody on our central committee is in the phone company's administration. It was supposed to have been fixed this year."

So they're stuck with the listing at least until 2011 books come out.

The connection between the Republican Party and plumbing wasn't lost on DeMartini. The infamous White House "plumbers" were directed by high-ranking Nixon administration officials to stop leaks of classified information to the press. They were caught breaking into Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in 1972. The incident ultimately brought down President Richard Nixon.

So is the listing among the Yellow Pages' plumbing section some sort of political payback?

"A Democratic conspiracy," DeMartini joked.

STOLEN MOBILITY -- In mid-February, Johansen High School freshman Devin Riley's bicycle was stolen from the southeast Modesto campus. Riley, 15, has cerebral palsy, which makes walking to and from school an arduous task, adaptive physical education specialist Heidi Aufdemaur said.

"His bike gave him a sense of freedom he cannot experience while walking," she said. "He is a truly remarkable young man, and I am amazed with him every day how he tries everything and seems to be very resilient."

She asks anyone with information about the theft to contact the Modesto police, or her at Johansen High at 576-4702.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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