They were Women Airforce Service Pilots who flew planes during WWII to release men for the war effort. From the AP article:
They flew planes during World War II but weren't considered "real" military pilots. No flags were draped over their coffins when they died on duty. And when their service ended, they had to pay their own bus fare home.
These aviators — all women — got long-overdue recognition on Wednesday. They received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress, in a ceremony on Capitol Hill.
The Congressional Gold Medal was earlier given to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo Code Talkers. Because of the racial segregation in the military during WWII I suspect that none of the WASPs were women of color. I may be wrong about that, of course.
Women pilots compiled an enviable record. The WASPs delivered 12,650 planes of 77 different types. Fully 50 per cent of the ferrying of high-speed pursuit planes in the United States was done by WASPs. On these and other assignments, they flew a total of 60 million miles. Of the 1,830 women admitted to the WASP program, 1,074 graduated and 38 lost their lives. None was mourned more than Evelyn Sharp, one of the most experienced ferry pilots, who died when she was thrown through the canopy of her P-38 as she crash-landed near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Since she was a civilian and did not qualify for death benefits, her fellow pilots took up a collection to help pay for her funeral. Although they were not officially entitled to do so, the townspeople of her hometown of Ord, Nebraska, draped her coffin with an American flag.
*Fixed this because it was a bad transition and didn't say what I intended.