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2017-10-12 / Headlines

Ellsworth AFB Names Building For Lakota WWII Pilot

BY JIM KENT
LCT CORRESPONDENT


Millie Rexroat - an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation - was a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and the first female Native American military pilot of WWII. Photo courtesy Millie Rexroat Millie Rexroat - an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation - was a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and the first female Native American military pilot of WWII. Photo courtesy Millie Rexroat ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, – When Ola “Millie” Rexroat joined the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots during World War Two she created a legacy by becoming the first female Native American to become a military pilot.

Now that legacy will continue to be an inspiration for all those who enter and work at the “Millie Rexroat Building” on this air base located just outside Rapid City.

In a ceremony on October 2 the Ellsworth Airfield Operations Building was renamed in Rexroat’s honor.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Miranda Simmons learned about Millie Rexroat as the military branch was preparing to celebrate its 70th anniversary. Simmons said the recently deceased Lakota pilot’s story fit perfectly into the anniversary’s theme – “Breaking Barriers”.


A building at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, S.D., has been named in honor of Ola “Millie” Rexroat - the first female Native American military pilot of WWII. A building at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, S.D., has been named in honor of Ola “Millie” Rexroat - the first female Native American military pilot of WWII. “What she did at an early age in breaking barriers in starting her career as a WASP pilot,” observed Simmons, “just spoke volumes about the heritage of the Air Force.”

An Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation, Rexroat was working at the Army War College in Washington, D.C. when World War Two began.

At a time when women were serving the war effort in secretarial and typist jobs for the U.S. government, Millie Rexroat wanted to do much more.

“And I thought should I join the WAC…which was the Women’s Army Corps,” Rexroat recalled in a 2009 interview. “And I didn’t really want to do that. Should I join the Navy? And I didn’t know enough about that. And I thought about the Marines…which I did think I would like, so I sent them telegram.”

The Marine Corps never responded, so Millie was forced to look elsewhere for a way to serve her country.

“And then I thought, if I had some background of doing something, maybe I could, you know, do something that really made a difference,” Rexroat continued. “And that’s how I happened to think about if...see, I didn’t even know how to drive a car. And I thought...if I could do something like fly...”

Rexroat paid for her own flying lessons, earned her pilot’s license and joined the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. She was one of the 1074 women who earned WASP wings; thirty-eight died in the line of duty. The female pilots ferried planes, pulled targets for anti-aircraft crews or worked as flight inspectors for the Army Air Force.

After the war Rexroat was one of the first female air-traffic controllers for the Federal Aviation Administration - a job she stayed with until she retired.

The building named after Millie Rexroat houses various airfield agencies at Ellsworth Air Force Base including air traffic control. That makes it a fitting tribute to a woman, added Lt. Simmons, who was an inspiration to so many.

Marcella LeBeau was an Army nurse during World War Two and a longtime friend of Millie Rexroat – who she considered her hero.

“I first met her at a conference of the North American Indian Women’s Association,” LeBeau explained.

It was as a result of walking together as women veterans behind the military honor guard at the opening procession for the conference that LeBeau first became aware of Rexroat’s service. Yet it was quite some time before LeBeau learned that Rexroat had not only been pilot, but the first Native American woman to become a military pilot.

“She didn’t talk about it,” LeBeau recalled. But she did so much to bring honor to herself and to Native American women. I think it’s so awesome that they put her name on the building. It not only honors her but it honors all Native American veterans.”

Ola “Millie” Rexroat passed away on June 28 at the age of 99. Her ashes will be taken to Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington, D.C.

“I’m so proud of her,” added LeBeau. “Because of everything that she did… and because she was my friend.”

Jim Kent can be reached at kentvfte@gwtc.net

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