Society

Families Of Female WWII Pilots Fight To Have Loved Ones' Remains Placed In Arlington National Cemetery

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
WASPs during WWIIWASPs during WWII

Elaine Harmon died in April 2015 after an incredible 95-year life. During World War II, she served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, where she piloted noncombat missions. 

Although the women involved in the program, known as WASPs, were granted veteran status in 1997, it wasn’t until 2002 that they could have their ashes placed in Arlington National Cemetery.

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In early 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh declared that WASPs were ineligible for burial at the cemetery.

Harmon’s daughter, Terry Harmon, 69, of Silver Spring, Maryland, is now fighting to have her mother’s ashes placed in Arlington, The Associated Press reports.

According to a memo from McHugh, Army lawyers had determined that “active duty designees,” like WASPs and the Merchant Marine from WWII, weren’t eligible to have their urns placed at Arlington.

Army spokesman Paul Prince said in a statement that under federal law WASPs can’t be placed in Arlington because it’s run by the Army, but they’re eligible for burial at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Kate Landdeck, a Texas Woman's University history professor, said she isn’t sure why officials seem to be going out of their way to exclude the more than 1,000 women who served in the program, which was run between 1942 and 1944.

WASPs "are a distinct group of women with the surviving 100-or-so women all in their 90s," Landdeck told AP. "It is just mean-spirited for the secretary of the Army to question their value to their country -- again."

Some WASPs said this isn’t the first indignity they’ve suffered, despite being considered veterans.

"If a girl got killed, her parents didn't get anything, not even a flag -- nothing," WASP Barbara Erickson London told CBS News in 2014. "Not even any acknowledgement that their daughter had been in the military."

Thirty-eight WASPs died in crashes, CBS News reported.

“These women have been fighting this battle, off and on, for over 50 years now,” Terry said.

Sources: AP, CBS News / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons