Native Women's Group Honors WWII Lakota Pilot

Jun 17, 2016

Millie Rexroat at home - June 2016 – wearing the Congressional Gold Medal she was awarded for being one of 1074 Women’s Airforce Service Pilots…or W.A.S.P.s…who served in the U.S. Army Airforce during World War Two.
Credit Photo by Eileen Briggs

A Lakota elder who is the only known Native American military pilot to serve in World War Two has been honored by a national Native American Women’s group. We attended the ceremony to ask Native women what makes Ola “Millie” Rexroat  a role model in her community.

Traditional Lakota singers offer an honoring song as 100 Native women and guests gather at Black Hills State University to acknowledge World War Two veteran Millie Rexroat.

The 98-year old Oglala Sioux tribal member was one of 1074 Women’s Airforce Service Pilots…or W.A.S.P.s…who served in the Army Airforce. They didn’t go into combat…but they did pull targets for anti-aircraft batteries to practice on. W.A.S.P.s also ferried planes and personnel.

Female U.S. Army Airforce pilots flew planes likes this Curtis A-25 for anti-aircraft battery practice during WWII.
Credit Public Domain - US.Gov-Military-Air Force

Georgia Pedro is president of the North American Indian Women’s Association. Pedro describes Millie Rexroat as a very loving, caring person with a wonderful sense of humor. But in her role as a U.S. Army Airforce pilot, Pedro says Millie carried on the Native America tradition of women warriors.

“I just think…too…women of her time…in the 1940s…(were) just outstanding,” Pedro observes. “That she was just a brave person…just underneath…but not even thinking ‘I can’t do something because I’m a woman.’ She…to me…is just a strong warrior. A strong woman warrior…without even being there to receive accolades for it.”

Millie Rexroat is a past member and New Mexico chapter president of the North American Indian Women’s Association. Although Millie wasn’t able to attend her honoring ceremony, women from the group traveled to Millie’s South Dakota home to present her with an afghan and a carved statue of a traditional Lakota woman. 

Only 1074 women earned the right to wear Women’s Airforce Service Pilot wings during WWII.
Credit Courtesy U.S. Airforce

  Marcela LeBeau is a Lakota elder from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. She was an Army nurse during World War Two at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge and has known Millie Rexroat for years.

“She is just such a delightful, intelligent and awesome lady,” LeBeau comments. “I just worship her.”

Marcella LeBeau considers Millie Rexroat’s service as an Air Force pilot as one of the greatest accomplishments for Lakota women. LeBeau also sees Millie as a role model for Native women of all ages.

Related links: 

WWII Female Lakota Pilot Honored At Luncheon - 5/17/16

A Conversation With One Of The Last Surviving W.A.S.P.s in South Dakota 8/17/09

HOMEFRONT: South Dakota Stories Ola "Millie" Rexroat