Women aviators who served during World War II are closer to having the right to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
A bill that makes it possible for members of the Women Airforce Service Program to once again be buried at Arlington, the most prominent of the country's veteran cemeteries, cleared the Senate unanimously on Tuesday with minor amendments. Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, lead the effort.
The bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and passed. The bill now heads back to the House for anticipated final approval and on to the president.
WASP members received approval to be buried in Arlington in 2002, but in March 2015, then-Army Secretary John McHugh determined that the cemetery's superintendent couldn't inter these women there because technically they were civilians during their service. The legislation in Congress would effectively repeal McHugh's decision.
"These amazing women who helped win World War II deserve access to Arlington Cemetery and the full honors we give our war heroes," Davis said in a statement. "It is an injustice that they are being denied access to Arlington, which has always been considered a sacred place of honor."
The WASPs were a group of more than 1,000 women aviators who flew non-combat Army Air Force missions, including the ferrying of aircraft between airfields and towing airborne training targets and other duties that freed male pilots for combat sorties. The program existed between 1942 and 1944.
One was Jean Landis, an El Cajon woman who primarily spent her service flying new P-51 Mustang fighters between Long Beach and Newark, N.J., so the airplanes could be shipped over the Atlantic to the European theater.
She also flew four other fighters and served in the unit until it was deactivated. She has since become one of the many former WASP pilots who have become the public face of the effort to restore burial rights for members of this unique military program.