During World War II, over 1,000 women signed up to fly combat aircraft to overcome for the severe shortage of men. They were known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.
Despite flying combat missions, they were still considered civilians and they were paid less than than their male counterparts and received no benefits. Thirty-eight WASPs died in combat during the war, but the Army didn’t pay for their bodies to return home.
But now, their ashes may be interred at Arlington National Cemetery after President Obama signed legislation on Friday granting them eligibility once again.
Federal law in 1977 gave the WASPs full veteran status, and Arlington Cemetery’s superintendent in 2002 announced the pilots’ ashes can be interred at the cemetery. They are still barred from having a full military burial.
But since this is United States in the 21st century, this didn’t last long. In 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh revoked the pilots’ right to have their ashes placed at the cemetery. McHugh said the Arlington Cemetery superintendent did not have the authority to allow the WASPs and other civilians to be buried there, and the women were barred from consideration since they did not qualify as active-duty.
The bill Obama signed on Friday reverses McHugh’s decision.