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It’s the WASPs which got stung

2 March 2016

Michael Schmidt, reporter for the New York Times, wrote a timely article regarding a bill currently before Congress authorizing the interment of women who served as WASPs during World War II. The article published on 28 February 2016.

WASPs (Women Airfare Service Pilots) numbered about 1100 and served as relief as well as ferry pilots for the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). Trained by the U.S. Army and flying for the U.S. Army but not as U.S. Army—this is what creates the ambiguity.

Schmidt’s article “World War II Pilots, Barred From Arlington: Bill Could Give Female Fliers, Knowns as WASPs, Rights to Burial Despite a 2015 Army Prohibition” addresses the story of WASP Elaine Harmon and the emotion of her family as they continue to pursue her Arlington interment.

Interestingly, General Hap Arnold (head of the USAAF) asked Congress to have WASPs in the USAAF but it declined. There is little doubt that it was a sexist decision if one uses the walks-like-a-duck-and-sounds-like-a-duck logic. It was one of the few requests from Hap to Congress that was turned down—which underscores the apparently illogical Congressional stance.

Schmidt does not present a good legal argument for Harmon’s case though he presents an excellent one based on humanity. Saying other non service persons are buried at Arlington National Cemetery without mention of whether rules had changed during the interim between then and now is not helpful in the debate, for example.

Antagonists may point out that WASPs served as contractors, so why not have machinists and actors in war films also be buried at Arlington? This is a significant question, and one hard to get by, a bill passed by Congress would remedy the situation.

Let us examine these facts:

  • WASPs were trained by the Army and flew the Army way—they did not fly for manufacturers
  • WASPs flew the entire spectrum of USAAF aircraft in all states of condition
  • Flying in WW II for WASPs was dangerous as new aircraft experienced a higher failure rate than present day since they were produced at a rapid rate and had to be delivered quickly. Certain losses were expected and accepted—the cold calculus of war. WASPs accepted these risks, as well, as part of the war effort.

Given the above, and knowing the military anticipated WASPs to be in its service, it seems they have earned their place with others who served this country well and with honor.

A book on WASPs is due to be released next month and is authored by an expert in the field. It is WASP of the Ferry Command: Women Pilots, Uncommon Deeds and is by Sarah Byrn Rickman.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 March 2016 04:36

    I think that you mean interment.

  2. travelforaircraft permalink*
    6 March 2016 07:28

    Tom, of course you are right. Thank you–I’ll fix those errors. Joe

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