After an act of Congress, World War II pilot Elaine Harmon has finally been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
She was one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, who flew military aircraft in missions outside of combat so that men would be able to dogfight on the front lines.
The women, who were not granted military status at the time they were actively in service, retroactively became veterans in 1977. The WASP’s, as they were known, were long able to be inurned at Arlington, but after officials concerned about space decided against it, their burial at Arlington was prohibited for many years.
Seceretary of the Army John McHugh last year concluded that WASP’s should never have been given the right to be buried at Arlington regardless.
Family of Pilot Fights Back, Gains Support
The family Elaine Harmon fought back against the decision, leading to an Associated Press article last December and a change.org petition which garnered over 175,000 signatures.
President Barack Obama then signed legislation in May of this year which permitted the WASPs to be buried at Arlington. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona who also just happened to be the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat for the United States.
Harmon’s ashes were laid to rest in a funeral service with full military honors on Wednesday.
Elaine, who died in April of last year, had wide-ranging duties that included test-flying repaired military aircraft, training combat pilots and towing airborne targets that other pilots could fire at with live ammunition.
Few knew about the 1,000 or so WASP women, thirty-eight of whom were killed between 1942 and 1944. Less than 100 still live today.
Eligibility for above-ground inurninment, or placing of ashes, is not as strict as the requirements for actual in-ground burial at Arlington. Not even all World War II veterans who did serve in combat are eligible for burial there.