Members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) may now be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery after President Barack Obama signed a law reinstating this right on March 20.
The WASP lost this right in 2015 when the Army reinterpreted existing law to exclude them. WASP Elaine Harmon’s family took up the fight to restore these rights for the WASP after Elaine died in 2015. Elaine had left behind a letter stating that it was her final wish to have her ashes placed in Arlington National Cemetery. Her family set up a Change.org petition that received more than 178,000 signatures. In January 2015, Rep. Martha McSally, the Air Force’s first female pilot to fly in combat and the first woman to command a fighter squadron, announced she would introduce legislation to allow the WASP to be buried at Arlington.
In March, the House voted 385-0 in favor of the bill sponsored by Rep. McSally. The Senate unanimously passed the bill in early May.
“Today is a victorious occasion for a revolutionary group of women who deserve to be celebrated and remembered by all,” said Sen. Joni Ernst in a released statement.
The 1,074 WASP ferried combat aircraft throughout the United States from 1942 to 1944. They were not considered active-duty military at the time of their service but have received the Congressional Gold Medal and veteran benefits since the 1970s. The Army began allowing their inurnment at Arlington in 2002, but former Army Secretary John McHugh overruled the policy, saying the law does not allow it.
Read Dr. Peggy Chabrian's January 2016 Statement On Arlington Burial Rights for the WASP