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House votes to allow Arlington interments for female WWII pilots

March 22, 2016 (Photo Credit: Air Force)

 

House lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday allowing a group of female WWII military pilots to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, reversing Army officials’ orders.

The measure, which passed by a vote of 385 to 0, comes less than a week after lawmakers grilled defense officials over the exclusion of Women Airforce Service Pilots from the well-known cemetery. Bill sponsor Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., praised the women as pioneers as heroes who are being unjustly barred from the memorial site.

 

Almost 1,100 WASPs served from 1942 to 1944, ferrying airplanes, training combat pilots and towing airborne targets. Thirty-eight died during training and support missions.

Following the war, the women were denied veterans benefits and services until 1977, when Congress passed legislation retroactively granting active-duty status to WASP pilots. Advocates have blamed that delay on sexist attitudes at the time of their service.

 

Women at war
Dorothy Olsen, seen on a P-38 Lightning, during her time with the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
Photo Credit: Courtesy photo via Department of Veterans Affairs

But problems have persisted. In 2002, after requests from WASPs’ families, Arlington National Cemetery approved group members for military honors and burial of ashes there. But Army officials ruled in 2015 that under existing rules the women could not be included, and once again barred cemetery space for those individuals.

 

Last week, acting Army Secretary Pat Murphy said that new legislation from Congress would be required to fix the issue.

Tuesday’s House vote is the first step in that process. A group of senators has backed similar legislation in their chamber, but no timeline for a possible vote has been unveiled.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

 

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