The ashes of Elaine Harmon, a member of World War II’s Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), were finally laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on September 7, 2016.
The female civilian pilots of WASP flew non-combat missions during World War II thereby freeing up male pilots for combat missions.
According to WikipediaWASP pilots,
ended up numbering 1,074. They flew over 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft. The WASP was granted veteran status in 1977, and given the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Why did women at that time become WASPs? After hearing about the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, University of Texas student Susie Winston Bain recalled:
I really wanted to make some contribution to the war effort. If Rosie the Riveter could rivet, why couldn’t I fly?
Pilots were desperately needed to take care of home jobs and release male pilots for overseas… I ate a little less and finally reached the 35 hours necessary to enter flight school at Sweetwater.
Elaine Harmon’s story is one of persistence by her granddaughter Erin Miller. She had been keeping Harmon’s ashes in an urn placed in her closet after she passed away in April, 2015, at age 95. Harmon’s final wish was to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
WASP pilots had been eligible for placement of their ashes at Arlington since 2002. However, Army officials, concerned that burial space at Arlington was limited, ruled WASPs were ineligible to be included. Secretary of the Army John McHugh said WASPs should never have been allowed in Arlington in the first place.
Former U.S. Air Force, pilot, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the first woman fighter pilot to fly in combat, sponsored legislation to reverse this rule. And on March 22, 2016, the House of Representatives unaminously passed the H.R. 4336 ordering Harmon’s remains as well all approximately 112 WASP pilots still alive to be inurned in Arlington.
Commenting on the House floor, McSally said:
these amazing women and pioneers to be laid to rest in a place of honor and a place for the most hallowed, is the right thing to do.
So ashes of WASP pilot Elaine Harmon were finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on September 7, 2016.
There is still the concern about space at Arlington because about 150 inurned or buried there each week. Officials suggest that the cemetery will be full in about 20 years.
Note: More of Susie Winston Bain’s personal story about being a WASP pilot can be found here.