Rep. Susan Davis Calls on Army to Allow WASP Access to Arlington National Cemetery
At a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, Reps. Susan Davis (D-San Diego), Martha McSally (R-AZ), U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and the family of former WASP Elaine Harmon called on the Army to restore the inurnment rights for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Arlington National Cemetery has always been considered a special place of honor,” said Rep. Davis, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. “The WASP helped win World War II, many losing their lives during the war. They deserve the full honors that we give our war heroes.”
Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Army, approved in 2002 active duty designees, including WASP pilots, for military honors and inurnments. However, in March 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed this decision. The lawmakers and the family of Harmon urged the Army to restore access to Arlington for the WASP.
Davis and McSally introduced legislation, the WASP Arlington Inurnment Restoration (AIR) Act to overturn the Army’s 2015 decision. Sen. Enrst and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
The WASP were a group of less than 1,100 women who flew non-combat missions during World War II. Their missions included ferrying aircraft across the country, training combat pilots, and towing airborne targets for other aircraft. Thirty-eight WASP women died during their service.
The issue of the WASP’s rejection from Arlington National Cemetery was brought to light by the family of Elaine Harmon, a former WASP, who passed away in April 2015. When the family sought military honors for Elaine at Arlington, they were denied by the Army.
In 1942, General Henry “Hap” Arnold created the WASP unit with the intention of granting them full military status, though Congress never approved the plan. The program ran from 1942 to 1944. In 1977, Congress passed legislation retroactively granting active duty status to WASP pilots for the purposes of all laws administered by the VA. In 2009, Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal.