Congress Goes to Bat for WASPs, other WWII Vets

March 4, 2016

Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) would regain the right to be inurned with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) under a new bill approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  

WASPs played a critical role in World War II, ferrying munitions and materiel and towing targets for fighter pilot training. Under a 1977 law, WASPs and over 35 other World War II groups were declared “active duty designees” for all laws administered by the VA.  

In 2002, the Army authorized deceased active duty designees to be inurned at ANC with honors.  

Only two WASPs and 101 World War II Merchant Mariners of the Oceangoing Service were inurned at ANC from 2002-2014.   

In March 2015, the Army cancelled their eligibility, saying the previous eligibility wasn't authorized under the law. The spat arose because ANC is a military cemetery rather than a veterans cemetery under the VA's control.   

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the first woman fighter pilot to fly in combat, sponsored a bill in early January to restore inurnment eligibility for the WASPs.   

The legislation (H.R. 4336) quickly attracted 163 bipartisan co-sponsors. MOAA endorsed the bill and recommended it be modified to include the other active duty designees from WWII.  

The House Veterans Affairs Committee approved the bill and Congress is expected to pass the legislation.  

The bill also directs the Secretary of the Army to estimate when ANC will reach maximum capacity and develop options for sustaining ANC “well into the future.” Options include redefining eligibility criteria and expanding the current boundaries of the cemeteries.

An independent advisory committee is also examining options for the future of ANC.

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