This writer is by no means a feminist or an apologist for women usurping men’s roles in everyday life, or women in combat, but when comes to the EXTRAORDINARY…that’s a different case.
All of us who grew up hearing the stories of how life was “during the war” know of the extraordinary effort the United States undertook to not just fight World War II, but to win it decisively. That included women on the homefront taking on roles that for that time – and some for this time – simply were not considered lady-like.
One such group were the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs who trained and served as pilots for all sorts of aircraft to serve the armed forces at home thus freeing male pilots to actually go to combat zones. This, during World War II, was an extraordinary service and necessary to the war effort.
The women who served the country in this capacity were considered “civilian” not unlike merchant marines despite the military uniforms they wore, and the military service they performed per orders of the Army. When one of these women was killed in the line of duty, the Army refused to allow the American flag to be put on their coffins, and the families transported remains at their own expense.
In 1977, the WASPs were granted veteran status, a distinction the over 1,000 women who served as pilots during WWII revered. This meant that they were eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery and, since 2002, with full military honors. That honor meant the world to these women.
In 2015, the Obama Administration via then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh quietly, and without any notice, rescinded the veteran status of these women. In a memo, it was stated that these women never should have been granted veteran status. That reality came to light when the family of WASP Elaine Harmon sought to have her ashes interred at Arlington. The request was denied. Arlington National Cemetery is running out of space, and to let the WASPs in would mean that they would have to let in merchant marines and any number of other civilian groups, according to the Army.
This stance and reasoning has raised the ire of Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) a retired Air Force pilot. She explained to Greta Van Susternen that the WASPs were mentors to the women now going into flight school and combat, and they served a function that was necessary during WWII. As such, even veteran status was slow in coming.
On Wednesday, Rep. McSally filed legislation to once again grant the WASPs veteran status, and allow their remains to be interred at Arlington, not simply at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Internment of ashes does not have as many restrictions, and the space is not quite as limited, but still the hallowed ground of Arlington is getting crowded.
This legislation has a distance to travel before becoming law. In the meantime, Ms. Harmon’s family is keeping her ashes in a closet at home until this issue is concluded. As Rep. McSally put it, the Army picked on the wrong group. These women served the country with honor and distinction. They should be treated as such.