Lawmakers Join Fight to Have Women Pilots Interred in Arlingtion

U.S. lawmakers met to decry a U.S. Army decision to forbid women pilots from World War II to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The lawmakers echoed the complaint of many veterans and their relatives, about the unjust treatment of Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.

Republican Representative Martha McSally, the first woman U.S. Air Force pilot to fly combat missions, said, “These women were pioneers. These women were heroes. They paved the way for people like me.” McSally is leading the effort to change the policy at Arlington.

About 1,000 women served as WASPs during World War II. They provided training and transported planes in the U.S. freeing up the male pilots were sent to fight overseas. The played an important if an unspectacular role in the war. This was the first time that women were to have an official role in US military aviation.

They cannot be buried in Arlington due to a policy change that took place about a year ago. Arlington is running out of space. Authorities now refuse to classify the missions undertaken by the WASPs as active-duty service. This may be the case, and there is only limited space in the cemetery, but many argue that this has resulted in WASPs being discriminated against.

Representatives of the Senate and the House held a press conference to publicize their legislation to reverse the policy, saying that over 170,000 people have signed a petition in favor of the law. They pointed out the irony of this situation, given the Department of Defense is working to open all combat roles to women, yet refuses them the right to be buried in Arlington.

“We aren’t going to be able to change history, but we can change how they’re honored,” Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said.

Erin Miller attended the press conference with family members. They are trying to get her grandmother, Elaine Harmon, interred in Arlington. Harmon was a former WASP who trained male pilots and fought for women’s’ veterans’ benefits. She died last year at the age of 95 and left written instructions to have her ashes interred in Arlington.

Miller noted that Harmon would have been more concerned about getting the honor for all WASPs, not herself.

“My grandmother would probably say, ‘I can’t believe you’re making such a fuss about this,’,” she said.

“If these women had not served, we would probably be speaking German right now,” Miller said.

This controversy looks set to drag on.

Ian Harvey

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