Female service members who served as pilots during World War II can now be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery thanks to a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Barack Obama last Friday. Members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, trained to honorably fight in the war until the program was closed in 1944.
The WASPs flew more than 60 million miles in noncombat missions between 1942 and 1944. Despite the overall lack of recognition for their service throughout history, they were granted veteran status in 1977 and in 2002 they gained the right to be buried in the prestigious cemetery before that right was overturned last year due to an Army policy change. In 2009, a bill awarded women who served in the WASP a Congressional Gold Medal.
Tiffany Miller created an online petition on Change.org in 2015 to have her grandmother Danforth Harmon’s ashes, along with other WASPs, be eligible for inurnment and burial at the cemetery. The petition was signed more than 178,000 times.
“It was her last wish to be in Arlington. We haven’t been able to hold a funeral for her because we wanted to honor that wish,” Miller told CNN.
Earlier this year, Arlington cemetery officials said in a statement that WASPs did not “reach the level of Active Duty service required” to be buried in the cemetery despite their commendable service efforts during the war.
President Obama said this about the WASPs and their service after signing the new legislation:
“The Women Airforce Service Pilots courageously answered their country’s call in a time of need while blazing a trail for the brave women who have given and continue to give so much in service to this nation since. Every American should be grateful for their service, and I am honored to sign this bill to finally give them some of the hard-earned recognition they deserve.”
Miller couldn’t contain her excitement on Twitter.
Maryland Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, who sponsored the legislation, released a statement following the bill’s signing:
“Today we have righted a terrible wrong so Women Airforce Service Pilots can once and for all be laid to rest alongside our nation’s patriots at Arlington National Cemetery. If they were good enough to fly for our country, risk their lives and earn the Congressional Gold Medal, they should be good enough for Arlington.”