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Female WWII Pilots Can’t Have Their Ashes Placed at This Cemetery. Here’s Why

Are you familiar with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs? These brave ladies flew non-combat missions for two years of WWII, which allowed more male pilots to fight.

They trained pilots, test-drove repaired planes, and flew planes across the country. Though classified as civilians, they learned to march, ended their days listening to “Taps,” and slept on cots like the men did.

Their contributions were incredibly important. Yet they didn’t receive equal pay and missed out on military status and the benefits it offered. Then they’ve struggled “off and on for over 50 years” to receive the recognition they deserve—something they’re facing again today. They won veteran status in 1977 and were granted the ability to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors in 2002. But in 2015, the Army revoked the latter privilege.

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That’s why the ashes of Elaine Harmon, a big player in the struggle for recognition, are sitting in her daughter’s home. Arlington is where she belongs, says her family. And they—with the help of others—are putting up a fight to let her and other WASPs rest there.

John McHugh, the now-former Secretary of the Army, was the one to revoke the eligibility, saying the WASPs never should have been granted it in the first place. According to Paul Prince, an Army spokesperson, this is because WASPs can only be buried at Department of Veterans Affairs’ cemeteries. Arlington is run by the Army.

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On top of that, Arlington is pressed for space. But the Harmons say re-granting eligibility shouldn’t be a cause for much concern about space, since most WWII veterans are no longer with us.

Kate Landdeck, a history professor at Texas Women’s University, also notes that WASPs were buried at Arlington for more than a decade without any fuss, so it’s strange that it’s now a problem. “It is just mean-spirited for the Secretary of the Army to question their value to their country. Again.”

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And the tens of thousands who have signed a petition agree. Congresswoman Martha McSally even introduced a bill on January 6, which would give back the WASPs’ right to be buried at Arlington.

The outcome of this new war still remains to be seen. But let’s hope these women veterans win this one, too.

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A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.