The ashes of Female WWII pilots are finally to be allowed internment at Arlington National Cemetery. The change is the result of a bill that President Obama signed into law on Friday, writes CNN. The bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, allows for “the ashes of woman (sic) who flew in the Women Airforce Service Pilots program (WASP) to be laid to rest at the military cemetery.” The burials are authorized to be accompanied by full military honors.
WASP veterans were first granted rights to an Arlington burial in 2002. However, that privilege ended in 2015 after “then-Army Secretary John McHugh revoked that right after lawyers determined that those in the WASP program, listed as ‘active duty designees,’ did not meet Army eligibility rules.” In a statement, Mikulski disagreed.
“Today we have righted a terrible wrong so Women Airforce Service Pilots can once and for all be laid to rest alongside our nation’s patriots at Arlington National Cemetery. If they were good enough to fly for our country, risk their lives and earn the Congressional Gold Medal, they should be good enough for Arlington.”
The case for the female WWII pilots was pushed by Tiffany Miller, whose grandmother Danforth Harmon was a proud WASP. Miller “launched an online petition last year” to have Harmon’s ashes interred at Arlington, and the signing of the new bill was “‘overwhelming'” to her.
“It was [Harmon’s] last wish to be in Arlington. We haven’t been able to hold a funeral for her because we wanted to honor that wish.”
The WASP program was created by General Henry “Hap” Arnold in 1943. The Army needed its male flyers in combat, so female pilots “flew aircraft from factories to bases and points of embarkation, and ferried officials around the country among other tasks…”
As noted by The Wall Street Journal, the Female WWII pilots “had to pay their own way through basic training and buy their own dress uniforms, though they were paid as civil servants. During their service, 38 women died.”
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter “signed a law declaring the women to have been active duty service members and granting them veterans’ status, though with fewer privileges than other vets.” Although the Air Force has been a separate branch of the service since 1947, female recruits still served separately under the Women in the Air Force (WAF) program until 1976 when women were integrated into the Air Force proper.
It is appropriate that the female WWII pilots have finally been granted burial rights in 2016, as women in the USAF were finally able to serve in any combat position from this year. There are “104 WASPs still living, according to the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas.”
Although President Obama made no comment on the signing of the bill, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning made a statement.
“‘It is fitting these individuals should be duly honored with the opportunity to choose America’s most-hallowed military shrine as a final resting place. It is nothing less than they deserve—the recognition of a grateful nation.'”
The female WWII pilots burial rights were originally revoked in part due to the space shortage at Arlington. The cemetery is much more than a hallowed burial ground, it is the site of over 30 memorials and a place of pilgrimage. Hundreds of famous people from President Kennedy to Joe Louis to the Challenger crew — all with ties to the military — are buried there.
According to NPR, the 150-year-old cemetery site would have run out of room this year if not for last year’s “new columbarium [which] added 200 spots.” Arlington, which sits next to Fort Myer and the Iwo Jima Memorial across the river from Washington, D.C., might be short on room, but it has just a little space left for the brave female WWII pilots of WASP. Finally.
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