It took hard work by her family and a literal act of Congress, but Elaine D. Harmon, who served as a pilot in World War II, has been laid to rest—with full military honors—at Arlington National Cemetery.
The New York Times writes:
Mrs. Harmon, who died in April 2015 at age 95, had been a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, a first-of-its-kind Army unit made up of women who flew planes and trained men to do the same during World War II.
That experience was so central to Mrs. Harmon’s life that after she died, her family found a letter written on cream-colored WASP stationery and left inside a fireproof file box, with a final wish.
“I would like to be buried in Arlington Cemetery,” she wrote, adding later, “Even if there are no ashes left, I would like an empty urn placed at Arlington.”
Unfortunately, while WASPs have been considered vets by the VA since the 1970s, because they weren’t considered active-duty personnel during World War II, the Army said they couldn’t technically be buried at Arlington. Never mind that the job could be dangerous, as one former WASP told NPR:
“We had exactly the same training as the male cadets — some of the women ferried airplanes, some towed targets,” she said. “I was in a tow target squadron, training the boys at Fort Bliss ... and they were shooting live bullets at our targets. Fortunately they did not hit our planes, but they did not hit the target every time either.”
Ultimately, Rep. Martha McSally and Sen. Joni Ernst (both vets) sponsored a bill to change that, making it so WASPs could be “inurned,” or have their ashes placed in the cemetery. (It passed handily.)
One of the attendees was Mrs. Harmon’s friend and fellow WASP Florence Reynolds, known as Shutsy. “Finally, we’re over the last fight. We had to fight all the way along. I didn’t think we’d have to fight to be buried,” she said. “I wanted to be here to make sure they didn’t fuss it up.”