FAIRBAULT, Minn. — Pioneering Minnesota aviator Elizabeth Strohfus, who piloted military planes across the country during World War II and received two Congressional Gold Medals, has died at age 96, her son said Monday.
Strohfus died Sunday night at a Faribault assisted living center after being placed in hospice care after a fall a few weeks ago, said her son, Art Roberts of Northfield.
Strohfus was one of the last remaining members of Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. She ferried military planes in 1943 and 1944, and helped train air and infantry gunners at Las Vegas Army Airfield.
She was one of 1,074 female pilots to earn silver wings in the WASP. The female pilots flew military aircraft in noncombat roles during wartime to free up male pilots for combat. The women were considered civilians until Congress retroactively granted them veteran status in 1977.
After graduating from high school, Strohfus borrowed $100 from a bank using her bicycle as collateral to join the previously all-male Sky Club. She was a member of the Civil Air Patrol before joining WASP, the Faribault Daily News reported.
As a young woman, Strohfus was so intrigued with flying that she spent many afternoons after work at the Faribault airport, thumbing rides from pilots.
Roberts said her mother would say she loved to climb trees as a young girl.
"She would be up there all day, if she could," Roberts said. "She just liked being up high and looking at the world."
After WASP was disbanded in December 1944, Strohfus worked as an aircraft controller in Wyoming before returning to her hometown of Faribault, about 50 miles south of Minneapolis, where she married and raised a family. A member of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, Strohfus received two Congressional Gold Medals: one for her service as a WASP and the second for her service in the Civil Air Patrol.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she was saddened to learn of Strohfus' death. In a statement, Klobuchar said Strohfus "served out country admirably," not only during WWII as a WASP but also after the war advocating for her fellow WASPs.
Klobuchar has been calling for allowing WASPs to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, after the Army recently reversed its policy allowing the women to be interred at Arlington. Strohfus planned to be buried in Minnesota but supported allowing WASPs to be buried at Arlington, her son said.
Funeral arrangements are pending.