One of World War II’s most-kept secrets was WASP, the organization of Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. This team of badass ladies played an intricate role in WWII, taking over male pilot’s jobs in order to free male pilots to fight oversea. Recently, their right to have their ashes buried at Arlington National Cemetary has been revoked.
This comes as a particularly harsh blow, as WASP has had a long history of fighting for military rights and recognition. 70 years after the war ended, the fight still rages on for proper recognition. Four decades of lobbying finally earned the WASP’s veteran status in 1977 under public law 95-20.
In 2009, President Obama signed a bill awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal. However, in March, Secretary of the Army John McHugh disagreed with their military contribution, claiming that WASPs should never have had burial privledges. Their eligability was revoked and despite their service, these brave women can’t qualify for military burial honors.
38 WASP women lost their lives fighting. But due to the fact that they weren’t strictly a part of the military, they were not guaranteed the rights of veterans. If a woman pilot was killed while on duty, her family had to pay for her body to be shipped home. They couldn’t have an American flag draped over their coffin or hang a golden star in their window to show the sacrifice they had made.
To add insult to injury, after the war the WASP records were classified and America forgot about the brave acts these women performed. In 1970, the Air Force announced that women would be accepted into the pilot training program, and the media announced it as though it were for the first time. This caused WASP and their supporters to stand up and fight for recognition. President Jimmy Carter finally signed a bill that granted the WASP corps full military status.
In April 2015, Elaine Harmon and Betty Tackaberry Blake, the last surviving members of the first graduating class, passed away. Elaine Harmon’s family is fighting back, asking people to sign a petition that grants the remaining members eligibility for a final resting place in Arlington.
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