How Many Others? – Update

Published: March 18, 2016

By Jim Lichtman
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President Barack Obama signs S.614 in the Oval Office July 1. The bill awards a Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots. The WASP program was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than a thousand women joined, flying sixty million miles of non-combat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. (Official White House photo/Pete Souza)

President Obama signs S.614, July 1, 2009. The bill awards a Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots. The WASP program was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than a thousand women joined, flying sixty million miles of non-combat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Elaine Harmon is on the left. (Official White House photo/Pete Souza)

Last month, I wrote about Elaine Harmon who was one of many women who served in the Women Air Force Service Pilots, (WASP) during World War II. Thirty-eight of them died in service to their country.

Despite Harmon’s wishes to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, along with other service veterans and their spouses, Arlington maintains that a technicality in the wording of a piece of legislation is keeping Harmon and others out.

Harmon’s granddaughter Tiffany Miller, along with her sisters Erin and Whitney, have sought the help through change.org, a website where individuals can sign a petition to change Arlington’s policy. Miller also reached out to Arizona Representative (R) Martha McSally. As one of the Air Force’s first female fighter pilots to fly in combat, McSally introduced legislation that would allow the WASPs to be buried at Arlington.

In following this story, along with other news media, I discovered that some WASPs are buried at Arlington. In a follow-up, I asked Ms. Miller if she could help explain.

“We believe there are about 17 WASPs in Arlington now,” Miller wrote in an email. “15 of those were eligible because they had a spouse who served in the military. Two others were accepted on their own merit as [a] WASP.

“Last year, about a month before my grandmother died, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh issued a memo saying that, in this opinion, the WASPs were actually not eligible to be allowed in Arlington. He said the WASPs who were accepted on their own merit were done so by mistake, but since it wasn’t their fault, they weren’t going to kick them out.

“Basically his argument is: the WASPs were discriminated against in WWII, that’s why they weren’t eligible to be active military then, so it’s okay to continue discriminating against them now.

“Congress passed a law in 1977 granting the WASPs veterans’ status and that was supposed to fix things, but the wording of that law included a clause saying the WASPs would be eligible for veterans’ benefits administered by the Veterans Administration. Since the Army (and not the VA) runs Arlington, they’ve decided the WASPs aren’t eligible to be there.

“Over the years the wording of the 1977 law has caused a few problems. As a result, we have a letter from Senator Barry Goldwater who wrote the 1977 law saying when he wrote the law, it was his intent (and Congress’) that the WASPs have ALL the same benefits as any other veteran and that the law should be interpreted as broadly as possible.”

Help change the policy for these service women and sign the petition at change.org.

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