Despite the strides American women have made in the U.S. military and the Congressional recognition of the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), the battle isn’t over. Erin Miller, granddaughter of WASP Elaine Harmon, along with her siblings, are currently fighting for their grandmother’s right to be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
If you read our last blog on the WASPs, specifically Betty Wall, you’ll know that they were an elite group of female pilots selected to fly military aircraft and train other pilots during World War II. Although progress has been made over the years to appropriately honor these incredibly brave veteran women, there is still a battle to be fought.
In 1977, the U.S. Congress passed a law stating that the WASP’s service constituted active military service, granting them many of the same benefits that male veterans receive. Following this decision, the WASPs were given a number of awards, including the WWII Service Medal and a Congressional Gold Medal, among others.
Elaine Harmon’s primary responsibility as a WASP was to train male pilots on instruments at Nellis Air Base, “so they didn’t crash the plane into Mt. Charleston,” she told her daughter. Elaine flew everything from an AT-6 to a B-17 bomber, filling a void for qualified instructors and earning her right to be considered a veteran of active military duty.
Although the WASPs have long been recognized as veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army that hold the power to decide whether or not the WASPs qualify for burial at the Arlington National Cemetery, arguably the most famous cemetery in the United States. Arlington is the resting place of more than 300,000 veterans, including former presidents, Medal of Honor recipients and other notable veterans.
In 2002, the daughter of WASP Julie Englund fought (and won) for her mother’s right to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Between 2002 and 2015, a number of WASPs were buried or inurned at Arlington. However, in 2015, John M. McHugh, former Secretary of the Army, changed the policy, denying WASPs the right to be buried at Arlington, claiming that the cemetery’s superintendent acted without authority when he allowed those WASPs to be buried there..
Elaine Harmon’s battle was recently highlighted by the Washington Post, the same publication that brought Julie Englund’s battle to light, effectively bringing necessary publicity to the case that was eventually won by Englund’s family, allowing their mother and other WASPs to be buried in Arlington. The author of the article, Petula Dvorak, mentions that hundreds of exceptions have been made to the strict requirements of the Arlington National Cemetery, including a White House usher, a doctor, an ambassador and a national security advisor, none of whom met the cemetery’s military requirements.
“But when it comes to a World War II pilot who happens to be a woman?” Dvorak said. “Nope. No exception available.”
To show your support for Elaine Harmon and her fellow WASP members, sign the petition at change.org/wasp. You can also contact your Senators and ask them to make sure HR 4336, which passed the House on March 22, passes the Senate, as well. Share this story on social media outlets, and continue to voice your support for our country’s female veterans.