Rep. Susan Davis Joins in Introducing Bill to Restore Inurnment Rights for Women Airforce Service Pilots at Arlington National Cemetery
U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) joined U.S. Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) who introduced bipartisan legislation to restore the inurnment rights for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) at Arlington National Cemetery. The legislation, the WASP Arlington Inurnment Restoration (AIR) Act, would overturn a recent decision by the Secretary of the Army rescinding inurnment eligibility for WASP pilots, which they have had since 2002.
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.
"When the call came to serve in World War II, the WASP answered that call like millions of other Americans,” said Davis, Ranking Member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, who is co-leading the bill. “They have inurnment rights in other national cemeteries throughout the country. That right should include Arlington National Cemetery, which has always been considered a special place of honor."
“This decision is simply appalling. At a time when we are opening all positions to women, the Army is closing Arlington to the pioneers who paved the way for pilots like me and all women to serve in uniform. It doesn’t make sense.” said Rep. McSally. “These women fought, and died, in service to their country. They trained in the military style: sleeping on metal cots, marching, and living under military discipline. They deserve the full honors we give our war heroes, and I’ll continue to fight until they get them.”
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.
“We appreciate Rep. McSally taking the lead on this issue to right this injustice for military trailblazers who were ahead of their time,” said Whitney Miller, granddaughter of Elaine Harmon. “This was our grandmother’s last wish and we want to see this through. Not only was she a national hero, she was our family’s hero.”
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.
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.