House Passes Bill to allow Female WWII Pilots (WASPS) to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery

On Tuesday, the House passed a bill to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-AZ, sponsored the bill. It passed 385-0. The bill ensures the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) are eligible for above-ground urn space as well as burial honors.

The bill now passes to the Senate to vote. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD.

Last year, the military interpreted a law from the 1970s as excluding from the national cemetery those female veterans who did routine flight work for the military, such as training pilots and moving combat aircraft from 1942-1944. The decision came in light of the limited space available in the cemetery.

WASPs were not considered active-duty troops during the war. Since that time, however, they have received the Congressional Gold Medal, veterans’ benefits and acclaim as role models for female troops in service today.

During WWII WASPs played a crucial role in the war, although they did not see action. This was not by their choice, they were not allowed to serve anywhere near combat, by law. Nevertheless, the women pilots flew planes around the country, transported key personnel around America and other duties. This allowed male pilots to be released for front-line duties.

However over time, women were allowed to join the air force. Sine the First Gulf War, they have flown in combat missions and they have played a part in every air campaign since. The WASPs were in a real sense pioneers and paved the way for gender equality in the air force and indeed in the broader society.

The right of WASPs to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, comes after a long battle and many see this, as recognizing the women’s contribution to the war effort.  It also is long-belated recognition by the government of their war-service.

McSally was an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot.
She flew in combat missions over Iraq. She’s said that the WASP program “opened the door for people like me being able to serve.”

The active secretary of the Army has noted that President Obama does not have the power to change the Army’s ruling. He went on to say that only Congress can enact a law that allows the WASPs into the cemetery.

The decision by the Army reversed the cemetery’s policy allowing the WASPs to be interred since 2002.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE