Arlington Cemetery Rights Revoked For Female WWII Pilots

Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.
Wearing her WASP uniform from World War II, Eleanor Brown of Victoria, Texas, attends a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 10, 2010, to honor the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
After more than 50 years, Arlington National Cemetery remains a boys' club.

According to a recent article released by the Associated Press, female pilots who served in World War II are barred from being buried in the cemetery. Correction: Their invitation to be laid to rest at Arlington has actually been revoked.

The history here is that a group of female pilots, known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (or WASPs), were part of a special program during WWII running from 1942 to 1944. These women flew noncombat missions in order to make male pilots free for combat. In 1977, the WASPs were officially given veteran status and in 2002, WASPs were legally allowed to have their ashes placed in Arlington.

But earlier this year, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed the ruling and made WASPs ineligible to be buried in Arlington.

"These women have been fighting this battle, off and on, for over 50 years now," said Terry Harmon, the daughter of former WWII veteran and WASP Elaine Harmon, who passed away at age 95.

Since Elaine's death, Terry has been keeping her mother's ashes in her closet, waiting for the day when they can be interred in Arlington.

Terry Harmon, along with other family members of remaining WASPs, are working to overturn McHugh's decision by starting a petition on change.org and hope Congress will address the issue during the upcoming confirmation hearing of the incoming Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning.

Army spokesman Paul Prince explained in a statement that under federal law, the cemetery superintendent never had the authority to allow these female pilots into the cemetery in the first place. "WASPs are eligible only for burial at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs — not Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Army."

Kate Landdeck, a Texas Woman's University history professor, told the AP that she was unclear as to why the Army would be trying to ban "a distinct group of women, with the surviving 100-or-so women all in their 90s," from the cemetery.

"It is just mean-spirited for the Secretary of the Army to question their value to their country," she said. "Again."

The AP does note that Arlington is running out of space and is being forced to tighten the rules on who can be buried there. But that just seems like an excuse to Harmon's family. They say they're only looking for what they were promised — "eligibility for placement of ashes" for a small number of remaining veterans.
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