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Congress acts to allow WASPs to return to Arlington National CemeteryCongress acts to allow WASPs to return to Arlington National Cemetery

Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed legislation to allow veteran Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) back into Arlington National Cemetery.
A U.S. flag flies over gravestone markers at Arlington National Cemetery. iStock photo.

During World War II, 1,900 women were accepted into the WASP program in which they flew a number of noncombat missions in support of the war effort. Thirty-eight WASPs gave their lives in the service of their country performing missions that included ferrying and testing newly manufactured aircraft, towing targets, and training other pilots.

WASPs were first allowed inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery in 2002, but in 2015 the Secretary of the Army reversed the decision.

In the following days and weeks, AOPA and a number of other organizations along with activists like Erin Miller, the granddaughter of WASP Elaine Harmon, spoke out against the change. 

Harmon died last year and left instructions that she wished Arlington National Cemetery to be her final resting place. Harmon’s ashes are currently with her granddaughter who has spent that time lobbying and building support.

Miller thanked AOPA for its support and said the legislation “will finally resolve the ambiguity over inurnment rights for the WASP at Arlington Cemetery.” 

Miller also called WASPs “trailblazers for today's female military personnel,” and said allowing inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery, “recognizes their service as meaningful within the context of American history and creates a permanent historical marker for the WASP for future generations.” 

Miller said once the legislation is signed into law by President Barack Obama, her family plans to hold a funeral and inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery, but her work is not done. She is also helping two young Michigan students raise money to attend a National History Day competition in Washington, D.C., where they hope to show their documentary on the WASPs. 

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the first American female fighter pilot to fly in combat, was also a strong advocate for the WASPs and co-sponsored the legislation in the House. “It’s been just 19 weeks since the Army’s decision to kick out our pioneering female World War II pilots was brought to light, and we’ve been fighting ever since," said McSally.

AOPA President Mark Baker called the WASPs “inspiring and pioneering,” and said, “it is only fitting to honor their service and allow their inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery.”

Joe Kildea

Joe Kildea

AOPA Senior Director of Communications
Joe is a student pilot and his first solo flight was at AOPA’s home airport in Frederick, Maryland. Before joining AOPA in 2015, he worked for numerous political campaigns, news organizations, and the White House Press Office.
Topics: Advocacy, AOPA, Pilots

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