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Representative Jeff Denham

Representing the 10th District of California

Denham: Arlington National Cemetery Must Find Space for Female WWII Pilots

Jan 12, 2016
Press Release

Rep. Denham on female combat pilots in Arlington National Cemetery
View Rep. Denham’s full remarks online.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) today spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives to offer his support for legislation to ensure female service pilots who flew combat missions in WWII can be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery along with hundreds of thousands of their fellow servicemembers.

Rep. Denham is a co-sponsor of the WASP Arlington Inurnment Restoration (AIR) Act, which would overturn the Secretary of the Army’s decision to rescind eligibility for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) to be inurned in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1977, Congress voted to retroactively grant active duty status to the group of WASPs, and a 2002 decision made them eligible to have their ashes placed at Arlington with military honors. In March 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh changed this precedent when he wrote in a memo that WASPs and other groups of WWII veterans classified as "active duty designees" were not eligible for inurnment there.

Full text of Rep. Denham’s remarks, as prepared, is below.

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the contributions the WASPs have made to our great country.These are Women Airforce Service Pilots and they represent an elite group of female pilots. They flew combat missions during World War II. These women displayed courage, valor and a willingness to serve, and they made invaluable contributions to our nation’s efforts to battle on the world stage.

“There were fewer than 1,100 WASPs, as they are now called. Thirty-eight of them died during their service. But because the unit was created in 1942, the WASP group was never granted full military status.

“In 1977, Congress retroactively granted active duty status to these brave pilots to ensure that all VA policies, laws and services would apply to them. And yet the Army recently denied the request of WASPs seeking a place in Arlington National Cemetery. They say they’re running out of space.

“This decision flies in the face of our nation’s efforts to recognize, reward and treat honorably the contributions of all of our veterans. These women deserve the same honor bestowed upon hundreds of thousands of their fellow servicemembers. I urge my colleagues to join me in co-sponsoring and supporting the bill, and I say this to the VA: find the space.”