The law, which allows WASPs to have their ashes inurned in Arlington National Cemetery, reverses a 2015 decision made by then Secretary of the Army John McHugh to exclude the women.
From 1942 through 1944, some 1,900 female pilots were accepted into the WASP program. Although the volunteers were considered civilians during the war, they were granted veteran status in 1977 and with it the right to be buried in most national cemeteries with military honors. It was not until 2002 that they were allowed to have their ashes placed in Arlington National Cemetery. But in 2015 that privilege was rescinded.
The latest battle over their status was taken up by relatives of the pilots, many of whom are now in their 90s. Their cause received strong support from Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who was the first American female fighter pilot to fly in combat and who co-sponsored the legislation in the House.
“These women served their country with honor, and they deserve to be recognized for that service,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We’re pleased that these pilots, who have inspired so many others to fly, can take their final rest alongside their fellow veterans who have served and sacrificed.”
WASPs served in noncombat piloting roles, including towing targets for aerial combat practice, ferrying aircraft, training pilots, and test flying new aircraft and those being returned to service after maintenance or repair. Thirty-eight WASPs died in the course of their duties.
With their right to inurnment restored, several families are planning Arlington funerals. Among them is Erin Miller, who has been a vocal activist for the change. Miller’s grandmother, Elaine Harmon, served as a WASP, and when she died in 2015, she left instructions that she be laid to rest in Arlington.