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Bill would give WWII women pilots Arlington cemetery rights

Members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots on a runway in Laredo Texas, in 1944.

Courtesy U.S. Air Force

By Joshua Stewart | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 8, 2016

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — A bipartisan House bill would allow the remains of some woman pilots who served during World War II to once again be honored at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act will allow the cremated remains of women who served in a small program to be placed in the prestigious cemetery, effectively overturning a standing policy that prohibits this practice.

"When the call came to serve in World War II, the WASP answered that call like millions of other Americans," said Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, one of the bill's 24 co-sponsors. "They have inurnment rights in other national cemeteries throughout the country. That right should include Arlington National Cemetery, which has always been considered a special place of honor."

WASPs can be buried at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, but Arlington is run by the Army. According to The Associated Press, Army lawyers reviewed regulations in 2014 and determined that these women were technically "activ- duty designees" and couldn't be inurned at Arlington.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots was made up of about 1,100 women who flew noncombat missions during World War II. Some of their duties included towing airborne targets for live ammunition training, shuttling aircraft from one place to another and training combat pilots. The program was created in order to allow combat pilots to focus on combat missions rather than support duties.

The program ended after World War II, and the WASPs did not gain official veteran status until 1977. Their remains were previously left at an indoor enclosure at Arlington until 2014 when then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reclassified the pilots.

"This decision is simply appalling. At a time when we are opening all positions to women, the Army is closing Arlington to the pioneers who paved the way for pilots like me and all women to serve in uniform. It doesn't make sense," said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., the House member who introduced the legislation, said in a statement.

McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, served 26 years in the military. She was the first woman fighter pilot to fly combat missions as well as the first to command a fighter squadron in U.S. history.

(619) 293-1841
joshua.stewart@sduniontribune.com
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