Ernst, Mikulski Legislation to Restore Inurnment Rights of WASP at Arlington National Cemetery Passes Senate Unanimously
May 10 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, legislation championed by U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to reinstate inurnment rights for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) at Arlington National Cemetery, passed the Senate unanimously. This bill, sponsored by Congresswomen Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Susan Davis (D-CA), is a companion measure to S.2437 which Ernst and Mikulski introduced earlier this year. A policy change made by the Army in 2015 currently prevents the WASP, who flew domestic military missions during World War II, from being inurned at Arlington.
Between 1942 and 1944, the WASP flew countless U.S. Army Air Force planes for non-combat service missions to free up their male counterparts for combat duty, totaling 1,704 women pilots. Iowa was at one time or another, home to at least 25 courageous WASP. Unfortunately, 38 WASP lost their lives in the line of duty.
While the WASP were eventually granted veteran status in 1977 “for the purposes of all laws administered by the Veterans’ Administration,” it was not until 2002 that the Army allowed these women to have their ashes placed in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. In 2015, that honor was revoked by the Army. The family of Elaine Harmon, a WASP who passed away one year ago, has been working tirelessly to reverse the Army’s decision.
“The WASP were trailblazers, and put their lives on the line in service of their country,” said Senator Ernst, the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate. “Today, the Senate has acted, and we will soon be calling on President Obama to join us in honoring these extraordinary women for their courageous military service by restoring their right to have their ashes placed at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.”
"I'm pleased the Senate today passed my bipartisan bill to honor the service and sacrifice of the Women Airforce Service Pilots. I look forward to swiftly passing a final bill through Congress that can be sent to the President to be signed into law," Senator Mikulski said. "If they were good enough to fly for our country, risk their lives and earn the Congressional Gold Medal, they should be good enough to be laid to rest at Arlington. I introduced this bipartisan bill with Sen. Joni Ernst to once and for all right this wrong."
“I am proud to help ensure that the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots and other active duty designees who put their lives on the line for our country receive the honor they deserve,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “It was wrong for the Army to suddenly deny these brave women and men the honor of inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery after they were granted this privilege years ago. I thank Senators Ernst and Mikulski and Rep. McSally for their hard work to right this wrong, and I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law.”
“The WASP were pioneering heroes and, today, we are one step closer to honoring them as they deserve,” said Congresswoman McSally. “I applaud Senator Ernst for her persistent leadership to get this bill passed in the Senate. With minor changes made to the bill, I will continue to work expediently to get this bill passed in the House, where it has seen unanimous support, and send it to the President’s desk.”
"I’m thrilled to see the Senate pass the WASP Act,” said Congresswoman Davis. “These amazing women who helped win World War II deserve access to Arlington Cemetery and the full honors we give our war heroes.”
“On behalf of my family, I would like to thank Senators Mikulski and Ernst for introducing Senate legislation and working to ensure we had support in the Senate as well as the House,” said Erin Miller, the granddaughter of the late Elaine Harmon, a WASP who has been denied inurnment rights at Arlington National Cemetery. “I would like to thank Senator Ernst and her staff for their attention to this legislation which is so personal to us. Senator Ernst has been a strong advocate for us since the beginning and now we are one step closer to ensuring that the WASP and my grandmother are rightfully eligible for the honor to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery alongside others who have served our nation proudly."
Following today’s Senate passage, the legislation now heads back to the U.S. House of Representatives for final consideration. Upon House passage, the legislation will head to the President’s desk.