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My Turn 4-24
The right thing to do
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Elaine Harmon died last year at age 95. Her final wish was to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. Unfortunately, her application was rejected by the Secretary of the Army. 
Elaine was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots [WASP]. At General Hap Arnold’s behest, Jackie Cochran and Nancy Love created the WASP program in 1942. Its goal: to allow more male pilots to fly overseas.
American women were eager to serve our nation in WWII. Some 25,000 applied to become pilots. Over 1,800 were selected for training. Ultimately, 1,074 women graduated from the training program at Avenger Field in Sweetwater,Texas.
WASP made crucial contributions to the war effort by flying planes from factories to airbases, by towing targets for anti-aircraft training, by test-piloting experimental aircraft, and by training male pilots.
WASP were also subject to military discipline and lived under military conditions. They flew every kind of military aircraft, from B-29 heavy bombers to P-51 Mustang fighters. In total, they flew over 60 million miles and 38 of them died in service to our country.
Cornelia Fort, the first WASP to die, voiced their patriotic sentiments best, “That we, in a very small way, are being allowed to help keep the sky free is the most beautiful thing I have ever known. I, for one, am profoundly grateful that my one talent, my only knowledge, flying, happens to be of use to my country when it is needed.”
Unlike male pilots, the WASP “had to pay their own way to Avenger Field, and back home when Congress disbanded the program prematurely, against the recommendation of General Hap Arnold.” During the war, they “were also denied death benefits that other service members received. Worst of all, when a ‘fly girl’ [as they were called] died, her sister pilots had to chip in funds for a proper burial.” Even after WWII was won with their help, they were “denied all veteran’s benefits, including the G.I. Bill. Nor were they allowed to join groups like the American Legion.”
WASP’s long struggle to be recognized as veterans gained major allies in the 1970s. That’s when WASP leader Bee Haydu, Sen. Barry Goldwater [a WWII ferry pilot] and Col. Bruce Arnold, Gen. Arnold’s son, formed a coalition to pass legislation granting WASP veterans status. That entitled them to most of the benefits that other veterans receive.”
In 2002, WASP veterans were finally allowed to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. However, that right has recently been revoked, not just for Elaine Harmon, but also for her brave band of WASP sisters.
Restoring Arlington rights for WASP is the right thing to do. I sent a postcard today to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, urging him to immediately restore the right of WASP veterans to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. I urge you to send one, too. His address is 1400 Defense, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20301.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at