By Miriam Raftery
May 20, 2016 (San Diego) – They flew for their country during World War II, and many of them lost their lives. A half century later, now they will be granted a place of honor after their deaths.
The bipartisan McSally-Davis bill to restore the inurnment rights for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) at Arlington National Cemetery has been signed into law by President Barack Obama. The WASP Arlington Inurnment Restoration (AIR) Act, H.R. 4336, overturns a recent decision by the Secretary of the Army that rescinded inurnment eligibility for WASP pilots.
"This bill has always been more than just access to Arlington; it’s been about the respect and recognition for the role these amazing women played in winning World War II,” said Congresswoman Davis, Ranking Member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. “Arlington has always been considered a special place of honor. If you are laid to rest in Arlington, it is known that you sacrificed to protect and preserve our democracy.”
Davis (D-San Diego) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced the WASP Act. Senators Joni Enrst (R-IA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The Senate approved an amended version of H.R. 4336. The House quickly approved the final version, sending it to President Obama for his signature.
The WASP were a group of less than 1,100 women who flew non-combat missions during World War II. Their missions included ferrying aircraft across the country, training combat pilots, and towing airborne targets for other aircraft. Thirty-eight WASP women died during their service.
In 1942, General Henry “Hap” Arnold created the WASP unit with the intention of granting them full military status, though Congress never approved the plan. The program ran from 1942 to 1944. In 1977, Congress passed legislation retroactively granting active duty status to WASP pilots for the purposes of all laws administered by the VA. In 2009, Congress awarded the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal.
Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Army, approved in 2002 active duty designees, including WASP pilots, for military honors and inurnments. However, in March 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed this decision.
Congresswoman Davis represents the 53rd Congressional District, which includes central San Diego, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista. She is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, serving as the Ranking Member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee. She also serves on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.