At last, women pilots from WWII are getting the recognition they always deserved
Huge props to President Obama and legislation he signed Friday: Thanks to a new bill, women pilots who served during World War II can be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, according to The Washington Post.
From 2002-2015, Women Airforce Service Pilots, aka WASPs, were buried there. That is, until then-Army Secretary John McHugh banned the burials, saying they should not have been allowed under existing laws. (Gasp!)
ICYMI, from 1942-1944, 1,074 WASPs flew noncombat missions during the war while male pilots flew combat ones. The WASP program was created thanks to the Army Armed Forces being understaffed in 1942. These women were groundbreaking pilots, and served the US with great honor. In 1977, the WASPS were regarded as veterans and even awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010—despite the fact that, in wartime, Congress did not consider the female pilots to have military status.
Since Arlington National Cemetery is run by the US Army versus the Department of Veterans Affairs, that meant no burials for women pilots of the WWII era unless there were new laws. Some might not be surprised, as the Army also didn’t cover the cost of sending the bodies of 38 WASP pilots back home after they died overseas.
The family of famed WASP, 2nd Lt. Elaine Danforth Harmon of Maryland, fought for the status of her fellow pilots. Elaine desperately wanted the WASPs to be allowed burial at Arlington and even attended the first full veteran’s funeral for a WASP back in 2002.
Harmon died last year at 95, but that didn’t stop her family from continuing her mission to change the laws. Thanks to work from Elaine’s granddaughter, the longest-serving woman in Congress, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), introduced a bill in the Senate to validate WASP status as military. Then, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a retired Air Force colonel, pushed it in the House. It passed through Congress, unopposed.
Elaine Danforth Harmon’s family said they will apply for a new funeral date, so her ashes can be interned as they deserved.