Last February, I wrote how Elaine Harmon, a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), was refused burial at Arlington National Cemetery. While not technically considered part of the military, nevertheless Harmon and her colleagues provided a vital service during World War II. Thirty-eight WASPs died in service to their country.
Harmon’s granddaughter, Tiffany Miller who, along with her sisters Erin and Whitney, organized a petition through change.org. As a result of the petition and Arizona Republican Representative Martha McSally, legislation passed both the House and Senate.
On the eve of Memorial weekend when we honor those who have served, I’m happy to report that that piece of legislation is now law, as this recent message from Tiffany acknowledges:
“Dear Amazing Supporters,
“It’s official! Today, President Obama signed HR 4336, reinstating the rights of the WASP, like my grandmother Elaine Harmon, to be inurned in Arlington National Cemetery.
“This is what we have been working for ever since my mother’s initial request to Arlington was rejected after my grandmother passed away in April 2015.
“There are so many people to thank. Utmost thanks to Representative Martha McSally of Arizona who authored the bill and fought for this as if the rights of her own grandmother were at stake. Senators Ernst and Klobuchar were leaders in the Senate for us. So many other legislators supported us like Barbara Mikulski, Susan Davis, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mike Bost, Randy Hultgren, Loretta Sanchez, Dina Titus, Bruce Poliquin, Jim Langevin, Steve Stivers, Tulsi Gabbard, Gus Bilirakis, Mark DeSaulnier and many more.
“Of course, we need to thank my grandmother’s fellow WASP who provided news interviews despite being over 90 years old. Our extended Harmon family were also rock stars, sharing the petition and story and lobbying from afar. The Texas Woman’s University WASP Archive (http://www.twu.edu/library/wasp.asp) and WASP experts like Kate Landdeck of TWU, Al Lewis, Kim Johnson, Julia Blum, Amy Strebe, Amy Nathan, and Sarah Byrn Rickman, provided much needed expertise and spread the word by writing op-eds.
“So many organizations endorsed and supported us like the WASP Museum (http://waspmuseum.org/), the Air Force Association, the Military Officers Association of America, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the American Association of University Women, the Ninety-Nines, the National Women’s Law Center, Women in Aviation International, the College Park Aviation Museum (http://www.collegeparkaviationmuseum.com/home.htm), the Pacific Aviation Museum (http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/), Operation Valiant (https://www.gofundme.com/zy656p8) and many others.
“The Flygirls miniseries (http://www.flygirlstheseries.com/) shared our story and hopefully will be bringing the WASP story to television soon. And our youngest WASP Historians, Avery and Jessee, are proving the WASP story still resonates with the next generation (https://www.gofundme.com/SHPS-HistoryClub).
“An extra special thanks to the staff at change.org who were exceptional; promoting our story in the media, sharing our petition, and even accompanying my sister Erin to lobby Congress! Because of the platform change.org provides, I was not just one person standing on a corner on a soap box, I was one person whose lone voice literally reached across the world!
“Last, but certainly not least, I need to thank my awesome sisters! My little sister, Whitney, a former lobbyist, provided strategic input and explanations of how a bill becomes a law (it’s complicated!). She also helped with the social media campaign and even gave an interview, baby in tow, to raise awareness. My older sister, Erin, a lawyer, who I do not think has slept since last November, has worked tirelessly managing the social media campaign, lobbying Congress, and working with the press.
“The most incredible part has been the support from around the world from total strangers who were moved by this story to bring honor in death to my grandmother. …
“Thank you ALL. Together you made this happen. Our family is so grateful. …
As Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”