The Women Air Force Service Pilots (often referred to as WASPs) served as a sort of paramilitary organization during World War II. They flew as test pilots for repaired planes, trained pilots who would see combat, and towed targets used in live-fire exercises. In 1977, they were officially recognized as veterans, and in 2002 were granted the right to be inured at Arlington National Cemetery for their service to the country.
Recently though, Army Secretary John McHugh reversed that decision before he retired, denying WASPs the rights that they earned as veterans. Current Army Secretary Eric Fanning has yet to address the issue, but is under pressure to do exactly that by families and supporters of the WASPs.
McHugh never made clear his decision to reverse the 2002 ruling. Although Arlington Cemetery is becoming quite crowded, it seems unlikely that this wasn’t considered back in 2002. It’s not as if granting that right to WASPs would have added that many potential burials.
But these women played an important role in the American war effort during World War II. Air combat played a major role in the defeat of the Axis, and many of those pilots were trained and supported by the WASPS. About 100 WASPs are still living, and to deny them their right to burial among their peers is unfair, sexist, and dishonorable.
Of course, the United States isn’t the only nation that has tried to ignore the roles in women in the armed forces. During World War II, thousands of Soviet women served in the Red Army, most of them on the front lines, but have been largely ignored or actively shut out of veterans’ services in the Soviet Union and subsequently the Russian Federation.
In light of the struggle for women to serve in combat positions even today in the 21st Century, denying WASPs burial at Arlington is another slap in the face of equality, and reinforces the military’s out of date views on gender.