Ensuring Women Airforce Service Pilots can be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery

I want to tell you about an ongoing effort in Washington which I have been working on — restoring the right of inurnment in Arlington National Cemetery to World War II veterans of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, better known as WASPs. I am very happy to announce this evening that the bill I support to restore this right will be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives this week.

Frances Green, Margaret (Peg) Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leaving their plane, “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” at the four-engine school at Lockbourne AAF, Ohio, during WASP ferry training B-17 Flying Fortress.

If you are not familiar with the WASPs contribution to America’s war effort, they were an auxiliary aviation group made up entirely of female pilots that supported the regular U.S. military. Directly following the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the War, our country did not have enough qualified male pilots on the home front as many of them were sent overseas to serve in combat roles. Luckily, many female pilots from across the country who had been crop-dusters on family farms or had flown mail routes, stepped up and volunteered their services in support of the war effort. These women would serve right alongside men in the air, domestically and abroad, training combat pilots and ferrying critical supplies and personnel around the world.

The original group of WASPs consisted of twenty-eight experienced civilian pilots who volunteered their flying abilities to support the military ramp-up in the early days of World War II. These first WASPs worked to deliver supplies across the country, including ferrying planes from manufacturing plants to the air fields where they would be used for training, or to the costal ports for shipment overseas. They WASPs were primarily responsible for delivering the P-51 Mustang, an American long-range fighter and small bomber that would become a legend during the war.

Florene Watson preparing a P-51D-5NA for a ferry flight from the factory at Inglewood, California

These trailblazing women trained and worked just as hard as men without the status, pay, or benefits their male counterparts received. This didn’t deter these women from doing their jobs, though. By the end of the war, more than 1,000 women had joined the WASPs and trained to fly nearly every aircraft in the U.S. Army, and 38 pilots died while conducting flight operations. They were stationed across the country on more than 120 airfields, and carried-out a variety of tasks they were called on to perform, including transporting military personnel, training combat pilots, and even occasionally taking on combat roles when male pilots needed to be relived.

Our country owes an incredible debt of gratitude to the women who served as the backbone of domestic military flight operations during the course of the War. After years of Congressional battles for recognition of their service, these women have been awarded full military status, Congressional Gold Medals, and veterans’ benefits. Unfortunately, while the WASPs did receive the right to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery for the first time in 2002, the Army abruptly reversed that decision in April of 2014. This is an unacceptable decision given their service to our country during the War, and when I heard of their struggle, I knew I needed to do whatever I could to make sure these women receive the full measure of gratitude from their country.

That’s why I have decided to join another female aviation veteran, Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, and Rep. Susan Davis of California in an effort to reinstate inurnment rights for WASP veterans at Arlington National Cemetery. In February of this year, I joined 55 bipartisan members of the Houseon a letter to the Acting Secretary of the Army asking that this right be reinstated. Unfortunately, when we recently heard back from the Army, they declared that congressional action would be required before the Army can reinstate inurnment rights to Arlington. That’s why over the past month since it was introduced, I have urged House Leadership to take up the Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act which I have cosponsored. Again, I am very proud to announce this evening that this bill will be considered under special privileges next week on the House floor, and I have every expectation that it will be swiftly passed.

I will continue to advocate on behalf of these deserving female veterans of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and all veterans wherever I have the opportunity to do so. If you are a veteran in need of assistance, or know one who is, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Norwich at 860–886–0139.