It took an act of Congress, but World War II pilot Elaine Harmon is finally being laid to rest on Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Harmon died last year at age 95. She was one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a group of women who flew military aircraft on noncombat missions during World War II so that men were freed up for combat.
The women were not granted military status at the time they served, but received retroactive status as veterans in 1977. And for many years, WASPs were eligible to have their ashes inurned at Arlington.
Last year, though, Army officials concerned about limited space at the cemetery ruled WASPs ineligible for inclusion at Arlington. A memo from then-Army Secretary John McHugh concluded that Arlington never should have granted eligibility to WASPs in the first place.
Harmon’s family fought the rule. In December, an Associated Press article about the family’s campaign prompted widespread criticism of the Army for excluding WASPs. A petition on change.org received more than 175,000 signatures.
In May, President Barack Obama signed legislation allowing WASPs in Arlington. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., herself a retired Air Force pilot who was the first female fighter pilot in U.S. history to fly in combat.
On Wednesday, Harmon’s ashes will be inurned at a funeral service with military honors. The family had kept her ashes in a bedroom closet while they worked to get Arlington’s exclusionary policy overturned.
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Family photo via AP