After decades of waiting — and months of lobbying — the female airforce pilots of WWII will finally get their hero's burial.
President Obama granted the country's first female air force squadron the right to inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery on May 20, when he signed the WASP Air Act into law. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were the first women to fly missions during WWII, but weren't granted veteran status until the 1970s. And until this year, they still couldn't be buried in Arlington — the country's most prominent military cemetery.
As Revelist previously reported:
“Arlington’s rules state that anyone who served on active duty and was terminated honorably is eligible for inurnment at the cemetery. The WASPs are legally classified as veterans by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but not by the Department of the Army, which operates Arlington. Without an army policy change or legislative action from Congress, the WASPs cannot be buried alongside their fellow servicemen and women.”
The issue came to the attention of Erin, Tiffany and Whitney Miller — the granddaughters of WASP Elaine Harmon — when they attempted to have her inurned at Arlington. Then-Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh denied the request, but the sisters didn't give up. Instead, they went online.
"I just went crazy on social media and just tweeted all sorts of people, trying to get people interested," Erin told Revelist at the time. They also started a change.org petition, which amassed almost 180,000 signatures.
“Today is a victorious occasion for a revolutionary group of women who deserve to be celebrated and remembered by all,” Ernst said in a press release after the bill's passage. “…The WASP stand in history as role models for women in the military, proving their strength and fortitude in the missions they carried out.”
"This bill has always been more than just access to Arlington; it’s been about the respect and recognition for the role these amazing women played in winning World War II,” Davis added.
Any WASPS who wish to be laid to rest at Arlington post-mortem will now have the opportunity.
“When I started my petition on change.org, I was really just hoping to gather a few thousand signatures..." Tiffany told Revelist. "I am so grateful to everyone who has supported us and I am overjoyed that my grandmother's last wish can now be fulfilled.”
The family will honor the bill's passage with a party at the Oakland Aviation Museum, and celebrate their grandmother with a funeral at Arlington. They've even been contacted about a funeral flyover, using one of the warplanes Elaine used to fly.
“It feels a bit odd to be looking forward to a funeral," Tiffany told Revelist, "but we have already had quite a bit of time to grieve, and now I think it will be nice to get together as a family… [Elaine] wouldn't have wanted everyone to be sad anyways.”