By Katie Reilly
The pilots were previously excluded from the cemetery under official policy
Female pilots who served in the military during World War II can officially have their ashes placed at Arlington National Cemetery, per legislation signed by President Barack Obama on Friday.
Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as WASPs, were inurned at Arlington between 2002 and 2015, at which time then-Army Secretary John McHugh ruled that the practice violated federal law, the Wall StreetJournal reported. The family of the late 2nd Lt. Elaine Danforth Harmon, who was a pilot during the war, has been fighting since then to officially change the policy, according to the Washington Post.
“Today we have righted a terrible wrong,” Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement, reported by the Post. “If they were good enough to fly for our country, risk their lives and earn the Congressional Gold Medal, they should be good enough for Arlington.”
A unit of female pilots was formed in 1942, when the Army Air Forces were understaffed. A total of 1,074 women graduated from training, and 38 women died during their service. When the unit disbanded in 1944, the WASPs were not classified as veterans, the Journal reported. While WASPs have since been recognized and honored for their service in different ways, they were never officially given access to Arlington.
The new law gives WASPs full military honors and allows their ashes to be placed in the cemetery. Eligibility for in-ground burial at Arlington is only given to a select number of veterans.