By Lauren Linhard – firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaine Harmon’s ashes were laid to rest last week in Arlington National Cemetery, making her as one of the first Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) to be honored at the famous veteran burial site.
Though Harmon may not be a name discussed in history books, she, along with more than 1,000 other women, flew as WASPs during World War II because of a shortage of male pilots.
However, at the time of Harmon’s death in 2015, the Army didn’t legally allow WASPs to be buried at Arlington. Army Secretary John McHugh decided WASPs did not qualify for the limited space available at the site.
Harmon’s ashes were kept in her daughter’s bedroom, awaiting the pilot’s final wish – “I would like to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. Even if there are no ashes left, I would like an empty urn placed at Arlington.”
Harmon’s family, along with veteran Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz), who served as the first female fighter pilot in combat for the Air Force, took up the cause. McSally, with the support of Senator Joni Ernst, also a veteran, introduced legislation altering the eligibility of WASPs to be interred at the cemetery.
“They gave the ultimate sacrifice and then when the war was over, they were told, ‘Thank you for your service, the cockpits go back to the men now,’” McSally said. “These women were getting a last slap in the face. I said, ‘No way, man.’”
The bill passed in May and was signed into law by President Obama, making way for Harmon’s family to fulfill her final wish.
Lt. Col. Christine Blice-Baum read from, “Celestial Flight,” written by WASP Elizabeth MacKethan Magid at the ceremony: “She is not dead. You should have known. That she is only flying higher, Higher than she’s ever flown.”