COLUMBIA — Gathered around two small windows in Columbia Regional Airport, fans of Mary Burch Nirmaier eagerly waited for her return. Nirmaier left Columbia on Monday, traveled to Washington D.C, and returned as a Congressional Gold Medal recipient. She was awarded the medal for her service as a Women Airforce Service Pilot during World War II.
“She’s my hero,” Columbian Mary McCleary Posner said. Posner started Salute to Veterans and organized the welcome home event to celebrate Nirmaier's achievements.
Posner was allowed on the runway to welcome Nirmaier and escort her into the airport. The small baggage claim room held around 15 Salute to Veterans volunteers, who immediately began applauding Nirmaier. The look of surprise was evident on the veteran's face as she walked through the door.
At the ceremony in Washington D.C., she was in the company of 175 fellow WASPs and families of deceased WASPs with whom she served. Nirmaier said her time in the nation's capital was “incredible.”
Nirmaier comes from a family of high-achieving fliers. Her brothers were pilots, and her father learned to fly when he was in his 60s.
“My daddy would have been so proud,” she said.
Nirmaier said receiving the medal “just goes to show that every little country girl that wants to do something can do it.”
When asked what she will do with the medal, she replied, “I’m going to find a mantle to put it on.”
She doesn’t have a mantle, but now she has a reason to get one.