Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Female WWII Pilots Barred from Arlington National Cemetery

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Female WWII Pilots Barred from Arlington National Cemetery

Article excerpt

McLEAN, Va. - The ashes of World War II veteran Elaine Harmon are sitting in a closet in her daughter's home, where they will remain until they can go to what her family says is her rightful resting place: Arlington National Cemetery. Harmon piloted aircraft in World War II under a special program, Women Airforce Service Pilots, that flew noncombat missions to free up male pilots for combat. Granted veteran status in 1977, the WASPs have been eligible to have their ashes placed at Arlington with military honors since 2002.

But earlier this year, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed course and ruled WASPs ineligible.

After Harmon died in April at age 95, her daughter, Terry Harmon, 69, of Silver Spring, Maryland, was dismayed to learn that the Army had moved to exclude WASPs. She said her mother had helped lead the effort to gain recognition for WASPs.

"These women have been fighting this battle, off and on, for over 50 years now, she said.

Harmon's family and others are working to overturn McHugh's directive. A petition on change.org has received more than 4,000 signatures. Harmon also hopes Congress will ask incoming Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning about the issue at his upcoming confirmation hearing.

McHugh's memo, which Terry Harmon obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, says Army lawyers reviewed the rules in 2014 and determined that WASPs and other World War II veterans classified as "active duty designees are not eligible for inurnment - placement of their urns in an above-ground structure at Arlington. The largest group affected by the memo is actually the Merchant Marine, nearly 250,000 of whose members served during World War II.

The WASP program was much smaller - just over 1,000 women were accepted into the program, which ran from 1942 to 1944.

In a statement, Army spokesman Paul Prince said the cemetery superintendent in 2002 had no authority to allow WASPS' remains into the cemetery. Under federal law, he said, WASPs are eligible only for burial at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs - not Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Army. …

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