Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY ; WWII Pilot Elaine Harmon Breaks One Last Barrier

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY ; WWII Pilot Elaine Harmon Breaks One Last Barrier

Article excerpt

ARLINGTON, Va. - The Chick Fighter Pilots were on a mission Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery. These are women who fly F- 16s, who scramble to take down enemy planes, who pull nine G's, who dogfight. And they're fearless dropping the kids off at day care, too.

They gathered on a hot September morning to honor one of the pioneers who made everything they do possible: Elaine Harmon.

"Please know how much she helped change the world, Maj. Heather "Lucky Penney told Harmon's family.

Penney, an F-16 pilot who scrambled over Washington, D.C., on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, on a potential suicide mission to take down Flight 93 before it could hit Washington, considers Harmon her spiritual grandmother.

"Look at any female aviator, she said, "and please know she is still alive.

Harmon defied the chauvinists and misogynists when she flew P-51 Mustangs during World War II as one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).

Then, she showed Congress that women should be treated as proper veterans when she testified for the recognition of the WASPs and finally got what she was seeking in 1977.

And, finally, after her death at 95 last year, she brought down one more barrier when an act of Congress made it legal for her and the approximately 100 surviving WASPs to be buried at Arlington with full military honors.

Her ashes were inurned Wednesday morning after a 21-gun salute and a flyover of the planes she once piloted.

"Doesn't that bring back memories? one of the female pilots said at the service as three P-51 Mustangs roared overhead.

Harmon was one of a little more than 1,100 women who applied to serve as a WASP and earned her wings. The WASPs paid for their own room and board during training. They scrounged up clothing that looked like the men's uniforms.

During their last graduation ceremony, in 1944, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, who said he wasn't even sure a girl could handle the controls of a plane, admitted: "Now, in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men.

They ferried planes across the country and the oceans, they were test pilots, and they towed targets to give the artillery boys live shooting practice.

When one of them died - this happened 38 times - Harmon said she remembered the WASPs passing around a hat to collect money to ship the body home. The government wouldn't even pay for that.

But those fights seemed over in 1977, when they were finally recognized as veterans and received full benefits, said WASP Shirley C. Kruse, 94. But in 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh rescinded their eligibility for the cemetery, saying they don't meet the requirements to be buried there. …

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