President Barack Obama signs a bill that awards a Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today.

President Barack Obama signs a bill that awards a Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Photo: WikiMediaCC.

During World War II, the army instituted a program called the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), which brought in about 1,000 women to fly noncombat missions and train male pilots. The WASP program allowed me the opportunity to take on combat related tasks.

At the time, those women were considered civilians, but in 1977, a federal law granted them veteran status, which came with it the right to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2015, the sitting Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, revoked this eligibility, ruling that the WASPs never should have been let into Arlington in the first place. At the time, it garnered a lot of anger, with almost 180,000 signatures on a change.org petition to reverse the ruling, and spurred a bipartisan effort to continue allowing WASPs to be buried there.

That effort is paying off, as a bill that allows the WASPs to continue having their ashes placed at Arlington is on its way to President Obama’s desk. He is expected to sign the bill.

The bill only allows ashes to be interred or for above ground internment because Arlington National Cemetery is too full, and arranging a burial there extremely difficult.

Nominally, one must have served in active duty, and have been honorably discharged, to be buried there, but not even all World War II combat veterans are guaranteed a spot.

The important part of this story is that women who served during World War II, doing necessary and important jobs that contributed directly to the Allied war effort, be allowed to be recognized for that work.

There have been a number of women involved in the armed forces in one way or another, well before women were allowed to serve in combat to the extent that they are, and few of them have received any recognition for that important work.

About 

Martin Ackerman is a freelance writer and current editor originally from Staten Island, NY. His university schooling focused on English education and Japanese. He has a (not so secret) passion for art history and political science. When he isn't writing or editing you can find him at sci-tech conventions, building the latest LEGO city or pampering his cat, Tea. You can follow him on Twitter @MarMackerman.