WASP Fighting For Arlington Access

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Veterans of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, now in their 80s and 90s, are widely honored in the aviation world, but now they are taking up a new fight for equality — seeking the right to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. A bill introduced in Congress this week aims to secure that option for the WASP. The legislation would overturn a recent decision by the Secretary of the Army rescinding inurnment eligibility for WASP pilots, which they have had since 2002. “This decision is simply appalling,” said Arizona Rep. Martha McSally, one of the sponsors of the bill. “At a time when we are opening all positions to women, the Army is closing Arlington to the pioneers who paved the way for pilots like me and all women to serve in uniform. It doesn’t make sense.”

The WASP “fought, and died, in service to their country,” said Rep. McSally. “They trained in the military style: sleeping on metal cots, marching, and living under military discipline. They deserve the full honors we give our war heroes, and I’ll continue to fight until they get them.” The WASP were a group of about 1,100 women who flew non-combat missions during World War II. Their missions included ferrying aircraft across the country, training combat pilots and towing airborne targets for other aircraft. Thirty-eight WASP pilots died during their service. In 2010, the group received a Congressional Gold Medal. Nevertheless, the WASP were considered to be civilians. Neither they nor their families received military benefits.

Starting in 2002, Arlington allowed members of the group to have their ashes placed at the cemetery, with full military honors. The issue of the WASP’s recent rejection from Arlington was brought to light by the family of Elaine Harmon, a former WASP, who died in April 2015. When the family sought military honors for her at Arlington, they were denied by the Army. “We appreciate Rep. McSally taking the lead on this issue to right this injustice for military trailblazers who were ahead of their time,” said Whitney Miller, granddaughter of Elaine Harmon. Miller also has posted a petition at Change.org. “This was our grandmother’s last wish and we want to see this through," Miller said. "Not only was she a national hero, she was our family’s hero.”