How Many Others?

Published: February 29, 2016

By Jim Lichtman
Image
Read More

Elaine Harmon was a WASP, one of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, a distinguished group of women who, while not technically considered part of the military, nevertheless served in variety of vital roles during World War II.

elaine-harmon

In a story from The New York Times (Feb. 28), “Like those active-duty military members, the WASPs wore uniforms, carried weapons, had access to classified information and saluted their superiors. Along with training men to fly bombers, the WASPs flew fighter planes from military bases to ports, where they were shipped to battle overseas. At least three dozen of them died or were killed while serving.”

And these women are excluded from being buried at Arlington?

“According to Army rules for the cemetery,” the Times writes, “had Mrs. Harmon been married to a veteran already laid to rest at Arlington, her request would be approved, even if she had never served in a military unit. And several foreigners are buried in Arlington — including a German prisoner of war from World War II who died in American custody.

“ ‘Think of the irony that at the same time the Pentagon is opening up all missions to men and women in the military they are closing the door to the women who were pioneers,’ said Representative Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, referring to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter’s decision last year to open combat roles to women. …

“The Army said an internal legal review last year concluded that a technicality in legislation passed in 1977 prevented the WASPs from being buried at Arlington. The bill designated the women as active duty for the purposes of Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. But that legislation did not give them status with the armed services, and so did not confer the right to be buried at Arlington. …

“ ‘It was heartbreaking and confusing,’ said Tiffany Miller, one of Mrs. Harmon’s granddaughters. ‘To single out WASPs is cruel — to say your service doesn’t count, that you’re not good enough to be buried in Arlington.’

“Mrs. Harmon’s family — which, like most Americans, was not schooled in how to navigate the workings of Pentagon bureaucracy — was unsure what to do. Relatives filed Freedom of Information Act requests to learn as much as they could about the policy, and they contacted their senators and representative. Mrs. Harmon’s granddaughters even launched a campaign on social media [More than 165,000 have signed a petition calling for support, including me. They need to reach a threshold of 200,000]. But the Army was not budging. …

“McSally, who was the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, has introduced legislation that would allow the WASPs to be buried at Arlington.”

“The Army also argues that the cemetery — where more than 400,000 veterans, their spouses and others are buried — is running out of space for graves and urns. … ‘Based upon current demand and capacity, Arlington will exhaust interment and inurnment space for any active-duty service member or veteran in the next 20 years, by the mid-2030s,’ the Army said in a statement. …

“ ‘These women were the example that women could be pilots,’ Ms. McSally said. ‘An airplane doesn’t care if you’re a boy or a girl. It’s how you fly, shoot the gun and drop bombs. And they proved that, and I’m just so grateful for them.’

“Support has built for the legislation, which has more than 100 co-sponsors. On Thursday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs sent the bill to the House floor.”

My question for the Army: If thirty-eight of these pilots died in service to their country, what does it take to be considered worthy of being buried at Arlington?

On the petition website, Harmon’s granddaughter writes, “Arlington National Cemetery states: ‘Service to country is the common thread that binds all who are remembered and honored at Arlington’; Our grandmother, and the other WASP, certainly embodied that ideal.”

How many others are in a similar position, and when will we see a change?

Correction: The 200,000 signature threshold was created by Change.org and is not tied to any government standard or the current pending legislation.

Comments

  1. Thank you for bringing more awareness to this injustice. My grandmother, Elaine Harmon, deserves the right to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery, along with other WASP who are already there.

    For clarification, we do not need to get 200,000 signatures on my change.org/wasp petition. That is just the way change.org shows the total number of signatures. Once we hit 200,000 (which I hope we do!), the counter will automatically bump up to another (higher) number.

    Thank you again!

Leave a Comment



Read More Articles
The Latest... And Sometimes Greatest
Fraud at the Polls?
The cancer of false conspiracies, lies, and cynicism eating away at the Republic—lies propagated and fed by the former president and his allies—has metastasized to...
September 20, 2022
“I. Do. Not. Like. Bullies.”
That’s Arizona Republican and Speaker of the House . . . correction, former Speaker of the House, Rusty Bowers who had been abruptly shown the...
September 16, 2022
Debate: How We’re Doing It Wrong
Every time another mass shooting occurs, the debate begins again. FOR GUN CONTROL – Nineteen, the number of mass shootings that have occurred since January...
September 13, 2022
Think It Can’t Happen Here?
     “If there’s one American belief I hold above all others, it’s that those who would set themselves up in judgment on matters of what...
September 9, 2022
The Man Who Made America’s Spirit Come to Life
Of all the books written by historian David McCullough the book I return to is a compilation of his speeches. The American Spirit offers exactly...
September 6, 2022
American Integrity in the Era of Trump
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in...
July 29, 2022