They were known as WASPs, Women Airforce Service Pilots. During World War II, between 1942 and 1944, about 1,100 women volunteered to fly military planes here in the United States. Today, a new battle is being waged for these veterans of war.
Despite the important role they played, the women pilots have never been awarded full Army status and therefore cannot be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. They were granted retroactive veteran status in 1977 but never received the full military benefits needed for the right to be interred at Arlington.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking to change that for good. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., are holding a press conference today to draw attention to legislation that would allow for WASPs to be interred at Arlington. The bill now has the support of almost 40 percent of Congress, with 28 co-sponsors in the Senate and 181 in the House, according to McSally’s office. Ernst and McSally will be joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., as well as the family of Elaine Harmon, a WASP who died last April.
Harmon told her family that her dying wish was for her ashes to be laid to rest at Arlington.
“Elaine’s family has been amazing,” McSally tells Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric. “And they are not going to rest until this is changed. The Army has tried to pressure them … and they have said no, even though Elaine’s ashes are sitting on a shelf in their granddaughter’s closet, waiting to be given that full military burial at Arlington that she deserved and she asked for.”
Arlington, the Army and the Department of Defense all tell Yahoo News that they will comply if Congress passes a law to let WASPs be buried at the cemetery. But Arlington also wrote in a statement that space is limited — in 20 years, by the mid-2030s, Arlington is expected to be at capacity.
Ernst and McSally, both veterans, tell Couric they would gladly give up their own spots at Arlington for the women who came before them.
“There are a number of us that would gladly give up our spaces at Arlington to make sure that we’re honoring these women,” says Ernst, who served in the National Guard. McSally is a former Air Force pilot.
Turning to the election, Couric asked both women whether they would support Donald Trump if he becomes the GOP nominee for president.
“I will support whoever the nominee is,” said Ernst, adding, “I truly hope that whoever our next president is will honor these women as well.”