Female Pilot Unit Gains Support in Congress for Right to Arlington Burials

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tags: Arlington National Cemetery, Women Airforce Service Pilots



Shortly after Elaine D. Harmon died last April at the age of 95, her family found a letter in a fireproof box with explicit instructions: She wanted her ashes placed at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Even if there are no ashes left, I would like an empty urn placed at Arlington,” wrote Mrs. Harmon, who had been part of a 1,000-women unit during World War II that transported military planes and bombers, and trained men to fly them.

But 10 months later, Mrs. Harmon has not had a funeral, memorial service or burial. A large black box of her ashes sits on a shelf above some blouses and sweaters in her daughter’s bedroom closet in a condominium in this Washington suburb.

Mrs. Harmon’s family has delayed laying her to rest because the Army, which oversees Arlington National Cemetery, says her wartime unit — known as the WASPs, shorthand for Women Airforce Service Pilots — was not technically part of the military. Thus, the Army ruled, her ashes cannot be placed in a columbarium there. (The Army also argues that the cemetery — where more than 400,000 veterans, their spouses and others are buried — is running out of space for graves and urns.)

Some members of Congress and veterans are outraged by the Army’s decision, saying it is a gross contradiction.




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