Female WWII Pilots Regain Right to Be Buried at Arlington

'I think that the WASP deserve to have that honor'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2016 1:29 PM CDT
Female WWII Pilots Regain Right to Be Buried at Arlington
Shirley Ingalls Thackara is seen during her days as one of the World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, sitting atop an AT-6.   (AP Photo/Courtesy of Lucy Kennedy)

Female WWII pilots are once again allowed to have their ashes buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery thanks to legislation passed by Congress this week, the Los Angeles Times reports. More than 1,000 women flew noncombat and training missions as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program to free up male pilots to fight in the war. Thirty-eight of them died during their service. After years of pressure—the Army didn't even pay for the funeral of a WASP who died during a training mission because she was considered a civilian volunteer—the WASP were finally recognized as war veterans in 1977, according to NPR. And the AP reports that in 2002 they were finally deemed eligible for burial at Arlington. But the Army reversed that decision last year citing dwindling space.

“These amazing women who helped win World War II deserve access to Arlington," the Times quotes California Rep. Susan Davis as saying. "It is an injustice that they are being denied." Arizona Rep. Martha McSally, who introduced the new legislation, said the Army's reversal was based on sexism. McSally's bill had the support of lawmakers from both parties and will now go to President Obama for signing. It's a turn of events surely welcomed by the family of Elaine Harmon, a WASP who wanted to be buried in Arlington when she died last year. Her ashes are currently sitting in her daughter's closet. "Its a great honor to be buried at Arlington," 94-year-old WASP Nell Bright tells NPR. "I think that the WASP deserve to have that honor." (More female pilot stories.)

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