During World War II, 1,074 women enlisted in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), a group of female civilian pilots who were employed by the U.S. military to fly military aircraft under the direction of the Air Force, thus enabling male pilots to be utilized for active combat service.
Over 25,000 women applied to be WASPs, only 4 percent were ultimately admitted to the prestigious program that had women completing the exact same primary, basic, and advanced training courses as male Army Corps pilots and earning commercial pilot’s licenses. They ultimately flew 60 million miles in operational flights during the Second World War.
And yet, it took time before they were even officially classified as veterans.
Though President Jimmy Carter finally afforded the WASPs full military status in 1977, and President Barack Obama awarded the surviving WASP members with the Congressional Gold Medal, today WASPs can no longer be buried at Arlington Cemetery.
An Army spokesman told the Associated Press that WASPs are only eligible for burial at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since Arlington is run by the Army, the spokesman said they did not have the authority to allow WASPs to be buried there.
There are approximately 100 remaining living WASPs, all now well into their 90s—and they wish to be buried at Arlington alongside the other veterans who served in World War II.
One deceased WASP, Terry Harmon, was honored to know she would be able to be buried at Arlington, as she had planned. However, after her death this past April, the current Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, said otherwise. Harmon’s family has now launched a Change.org petition asking incoming Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning to make the WASPs again eligible for burial at Arlington. In addition to signing the petition, supporters may also contact the Secretary of the Army here and contact their elected Congressional representatives and ask for the issue to be raised during Fanning’s upcoming confirmation hearings.