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Three Air Force trailblazers among Hall of Fame inductees

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Three Air Force trailblazers were among the five women inducted into the Women in Aviation, International, Pioneer Hall of Fame here Saturday.

An audience of more than 2,000 people witnessed the induction of three retired officers -- Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm, Maj. Gen. Betty Mullis and Lt. Col. Betty Jane Williams.

The ceremony and banquet marked the conclusion of the 17th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference. The Pioneer Hall of Fame, established in 1992, honors women who have made significant contributions to aviation.

The women, considered record-setters and innovators, are also known as mentors, opening the doors of opportunity to other women. Such is the case with this year’s award winners.

General Holm enlisted in the Army during World War II and served as a truck driver in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She left active duty after the war but was recalled during the Berlin Airlift in 1948. She was commissioned in the newly created U.S. Air Force.

During her 33-year career, she achieved many firsts -- first woman to attend the Air Command and Staff College, first woman in the Air Force to achieve brigadier general (1971) and first woman in any military branch to wear two stars (1973). She is probably best known as “the top WAF” -- director of Women in the Air Force.

General Holm has written several books on issues affecting women in the armed forces. She wrote: “I have always felt the military’s goals were best met by finding the best person -- male or female -- with the right talents and aptitudes.”

The general was unable to attend the ceremony and was represented by Maj. Gen. Linda Hemminger, Air Force Reserve, director of Joint Reserve Medical Readiness Operations and Affairs.

General Mullis served 33 years in all components of the Air Force -- active duty, Guard and Reserve. The command pilot has logged more than 4,900 flying hours in military aircraft, and participated in such operations as Desert Storm, Provide Hope and Joint Endeavor.

She has also achieved a series of firsts -- first woman pilot in the Air Force to achieve brigadier general (2000) and again first for major general (2002). She was the first woman in the Air Force Reserve to command a flying squadron, and the second within the entire Air Force.

She became the first woman in the entire Air Force to ever command a flying wing.

The general is known as a mentor eager to help other women achieve success. She was quick to point out that receiving the award was not an accomplishment she was solely responsible for.

“I don’t look back at (my career) as things I’ve done. I look back on it as things we’ve done,” she said. “And in ‘we’ I mean the people that I have worked with for the 33 and a half years that I spent wearing the uniform on active duty, in the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything. I happen to be the recipient of some accolades that other people deserve.”

Colonel Williams has been involved with nearly every aspect of aviation for more than 60 years. She earned her pilot’s certificate six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After working as an airline stewardess with Canadian Colonial Airlines, she was selected to train as a Link Trainer instructor and taught navigation to military pilots.

She entered the Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as WASP, in 1944, and was then assigned as an engineering test pilot at Randolph Field in San Antonio. She flight-tested advanced trainers and the P-40 fighter. The WASP were deactivated in December 1944.

After achieving several accomplishments in video and technical productions in the civilian world, she was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. She was one of two women and 98 men who were selected to the 1354th Video Production Squadron.

Colonel Williams served the military for 28 years, retiring in 1979. She was one of the initial organizers of the post-war WASP national organization, serving in several leadership roles.

“To be recognized by your peers is the important thing,” the colonel said. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”

She said her parents were key to her success.

“Since I was a kid I always responded to a challenge. Mother and Dad always supported me,” she said. “They never said ‘no’ to me, even though things I wanted to do were out of the ordinary.”

The other two inductees were Fran Bera, seven-time winner of the All Woman Transcontinental Air Race, and Galina Gavrilovna Korchuganova of Russia, who was the first absolute world aerobatic champion among women, winning gold and silver medals at the World Cup Championship in 1966.

Her award was presented posthumously.