MIKULSKI, ERNST INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO REINSTATE INURNMENT RIGHTS FOR WOMEN AIRFORCE SERVICE PILOTS AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Jan 11 2016
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) together with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) today introduced bipartisan legislation to reinstate inurnment rights for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). A recent policy change made by the Army now prevents WASPs, who flew domestic missions during World War II, from being inurned at ANC. Bipartisan companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last week by U.S. Representatives Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Susan Davis (D-Calif.).
“I’m deeply disappointed the Army continues to prevent the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II from being laid to rest among our nation’s patriots in Arlington National Cemetery,” said Senator Mikulski, a member of the Senate Military Families Caucus. “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 Cemetery. This legislation will right this wrong.”
“This decision just doesn’t make sense. At a time when we are opening all positions to women, the Army is closing Arlington to the pioneers who paved the way,” said Congresswoman Martha McSally. “Army leadership has the authority to reverse this appalling decision immediately. But if they do not act, Congress will, and I look forward to continue working with our co-sponsors in the House and Senate to see this get done.”
“On behalf of my grandmother Elaine Harmon, my family, and all the women of the WASP, I thank Senator Mikulski for championing this legislation in the Senate to recognize the important service of the WASP during World War II so that my family may finally be able to fulfill my grandmother's last request to be inurned at Arlington national cemetery and bring closure to our family,” said Erin Miller, granddaughter of Elaine Harmon.
Between 1942 and 1944, the 1,102 women of WASP, including 14 Marylanders, were trained in Texas and went on to fly non-combat military missions so that all their male counterparts could be deployed to combat. These women piloted every kind of military aircraft, and logged 60 million miles flying missions across the United States. They were never awarded full military status and were ineligible for officer status. Following the war, the women pilots paid their own way home. And for the 38 women who died in the line of duty, their families were saddled with the costs to transport their bodies and arrange burials. It was not until 1977 that the WASP participants were granted veterans’ status “for the purposes of all laws administered by the Veterans’ Administration.”
The Superintendent of ANC allowed active duty designees, including WASPs, to be inurned in ANC. However, in March of last year, the Secretary of the Army changed inurnment policies, stating that the Superintendent of ANC did not have the authority to change criteria for inurnment and that these individuals were not active duty. Among WASPs denied inurnment at ANC are Marylander Elaine Harmon, who passed away in April. Elaine’s daughter requested she be buried at ANC, and was denied, citing the change in inurnment policy.
The Senate legislation would allow WASPs to be inurned at ANC.
In 2009, Senator Mikulski introduced legislation to award the WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal, which is awarded by Congress and is bestowed for exceptional acts of service to the United States or for lifetime achievement. The WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in March 2010.