A picture of Representative Martha McSally
Martha M.
Republican AZ 2

About Rep. Martha
  • Women Airforce Service Pilots

    by Representative Martha McSally

    Posted on 2016-01-11

    submit to reddit

    Read More about Women Airforce Service Pilots

    McSALLY. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and to include extraneous material on the subject of my Special Order.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentlewoman from Arizona? There was no objection.

    Ms. McSALLY. Mr. Speaker, I rise to talk about a very special group of women who were mentors to me and who were pioneering heroes of our country. These women were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASPs.

    Some people don't know that much about them, but here is a picture of them as they flew airplanes in the World War II era. When we needed everybody to serve in whatever capacity one could in our country, they needed women to step up and become pilots in order to do all sorts of different missions, like towing targets for the gunners on the ground to learn how to shoot things down, like training men to go on to fly in combat, like ferrying airplanes all over the theaters to deliver them where they needed to be in the combat zone and bringing them back for maintenance. They were test pilots and engineers. You name it.

    These women were asked to step up and serve. They went through training. They put on the uniform. They lived in the barracks. They learned how to march. They were pioneers for women like me, who later on served as aviators in the military.

    There are just a little over 1,000 of these amazing women who served in World War II. They weren't given Active-Duty status, although that was the intent of General Arnold when they set up this program.

    If you think back then, the thought of having women military pilots was a little bit of a cultural hang-up. We will let women be Rosie the Riveter, and we will let women serve in support positions. But pilots? Now, that is kind of crazy talk.

    So they had a little bit of a problem culturally, but they didn't care. They chose to serve anyway. They said, ``I am going to step up and serve my country. I am going to do that as a pilot. I am going to do this with honor and with valor,'' just like their male counterparts did in these very same missions before them, alongside them, and then after them.

    Thirty-eight of them died in training or in conducting missions. Thirty-eight of them paid the ultimate sacrifice. They weren't even given veterans' benefits or any benefits after perishing in the line of duty, but they still continued to serve because their country needed them.

    It was not until 1977 that they were actually given veteran status after the fact. They were then given honorable discharges. They were given the medals that their male counterparts got for serving as Active Duty in the military. They were allowed to be buried, with honors, in veterans' cemeteries across the country and were given full military honors, which they deserved.

    They were actually allowed, as they should be allowed, to be in Arlington National Cemetery, alongside other heroes who have gone before them. Yet, we just found out within the last few weeks that that has been rescinded by the Department of Army.

    That happened quietly back in March of 2015 to these heroes, who deserve to be recognized and who deserve to be a legacy in Arlington National Cemetery so that future generations will know what they did and will know of the doors that they opened in the way that they served. It was rescinded by the Army.

    We didn't know about this until Elaine Harmon, one of the WASPs, passed away. I saw her handwritten will when I me with her family last week. It reads, ``I desire to be in Arlington National Cemetery. I want my ashes there.'' Her family put in the request like everybody else does, and they were denied. We now found out that the Army has rescinded that and that it is no longer allowing these pioneering women to be laid to rest in Arlington.

    Elaine Harmon's ashes are sitting on a shelf in a closet in her granddaughter's home, awaiting her final resting place in Arlington, which she deserves. The Army gave us some bureaucratic answer about, oh, they are running out of space, and, by mistake, they opened it up.

    In 2002, they actually allowed women to be in Arlington. Only two women took advantage of this and asked to be, in their own right, in Arlington. Then the Army turned around and rescinded it. Again, they gave some bureaucratic answer.

    They are on the wrong side of this. We have looked into all of the legalities. The Army has all of the authorities that they need to allow these heroes to be laid to rest in Arlington, but they are choosing not to do so.

    We have introduced legislation. We are going to make sure that it happens, but we are calling on them to actually [[Page H261]] change it tonight. Right now, the Secretary of the Army or the Secretary of Defense or the President could tonight say: Do you know what? Elaine Harmon and the other WASPs--there are only a little over 100 who are still living--are going to be allowed to have their ashes in Arlington National Cemetery alongside other heroes. This is the least they could do, and they could do it tonight.

    So I am leading the Special Order tonight. This is a bipartisan Special Order. This is bipartisan legislation, and it is bicameral. When we raised awareness of this issue and got the legislation together, we had nearly 80 sponsors right away on this bill who said: Let's change this thing.

    Today the Senate introduced a similar bill, and we are going to work together to get this thing done. We want to continue to raise awareness to this issue, this egregious violation of these women. We want this thing changed now. It takes a little bit of time sometimes around here to work through legislation.

    In the meantime, Elaine Harmon's ashes are sitting on a shelf in a closet. That is not the way we treat our heroes. That is not the way we treat our pioneers who paved the way for military aviators, like me, to be able to serve in the way we did, and it needs to be changed tonight.

    We have a number of individuals here on both sides of the aisle who are going to be sharing this time with me tonight. I first yield to my good friend and colleague, the gentlewoman from California (Mrs. Davis), who is the lead Democratic cosponsor of this bill.

    Mrs. DAVIS of California. Thank you so much.

    I am so glad that my colleague from Arizona is here to speak to this. She is very uniquely qualified to do that as one of the first women pilots--or the first--to actually fly in combat.

    As I remember, the women who joined us a few years ago here in the Capitol who were part of the WASPs were here to receive Gold Medals for their heroic acts during the war and for really coming forward and being part of that volunteer band of women who had had some experience in flying, but who could not have imagined in their wildest dreams doing what they were asked to do, but they were delighted to do it.

    As I will share, they actually wanted to do more, but there were some other people who took over and asked them to go home and enjoy their lives after they had given so much. So I am just delighted to join in this effort and to right this injustice for military trailblazers who were truly ahead of their time.

    When the call came to serve in World War II, the WASPs answered that call just like millions of other Americans. They logged over 60 million miles in over 12,000 aircraft. As my colleague has said, 38 WASP women died while serving their country.

    In 2009, as I mentioned, the WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for flying military missions in World War II. Boy, even when they were here, they were just a strong group of women who delighted in seeing one another and in reminding themselves of the amazing stories that they brought.

    More than anything else, they serve today as great role models to women who were considering going in the Air Force, of course, and in the Navy, flying for our country, but, also, for taking on some remarkable challenges in their lives. They really represent that for all of us.

    They fought, of course, and they died in service to their country. They trained in military style. They slept on metal cots like everybody else and marched and lived under military discipline. That is why we feel they deserve the full honors that we give our war heroes.

    As has been mentioned, they were given those honors, but because we have a problem of space, it was decided that perhaps they were not at the top of the list. We need to be sure that we provide for everyone who needs to be there.

    There are many WASPs who may not necessarily choose to be at Arlington National Cemetery, but for those who have chosen in working with their families--and their families have fought hard for them--this is something that we need to do.

    I want to particularly mention--and I thought this was really fun to read--one of the articles about these WASPs.

    This is Eddy, who is saying, ``I thought it was the nastiest thing that they''--speaking of the Army Air Forces officials--``could have done to us.'' This was while she was receiving visitors at her home in Coronado. ``They fired us. They gave our jobs to Air Force men who didn't want to go overseas. I would have gone overseas in a minute,'' she said. ``I was a (heck of) a good fighter pilot.'' In my community of San Diego, in El Cajon, I also have a woman named Joyce Secciani, who perhaps was not as forthright as Eddy.

    But despite some fading memories, at 87, she still shares Vivian's passion for the WASPs and her disappointment with its demise. She was also one of the 1,102 women who flew in the all-volunteer program between 1942 and 1944.

    She remarked, ``All of us felt bad to lose (our flying jobs)--all of us wanted to keep up our ability to fly,'' because they knew that, with prevailing chauvinistic attitudes, there would be no pilots' work for them in the civilian realm.

    We need to be sure that we don't lose our perspective about the work that these women did and that we honor them in this way, that we honor them and their families who supported them as well, because we know, with all of our military families, it is not just the person who serves, but it is the entire family who serves as well.

    That was certainly true of these WASPs, whose family members worried about them and were concerned about them as they carried on with their duties as forcibly as they did.

    Let's send that message. Let's continue to work hard. I know that the WASPs are also planning a museum to honor them and to make sure that the country never forgets the work that they did because it was necessary.

    Had they not been there to do that work, many, many people would not have received the materials. Whatever it was, they were making sure that it got to our fighting warriors during World War II.

    {time} 1930 I am so delighted that my colleague is choosing to move forward with this. I want to turn it back to her, and I know that there are other colleagues of mine over here that would like very much to join in this.

    Ms. McSALLY. Thank you, Congresswoman Davis. I really appreciate your partnership on this issue. Together we can show the American people that we can be united on these things that matter to support our veterans and support our heroes and, again, put the pressure on the administration that we have oversight of to actually fix this wrong right now. I really look forward to continuing working with you on it.

    I yield to the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Poliquin), who is joining this discussion as a cosponsor on the bill, very strongly supporting this initiative.

  • submit to reddit
  • Register your constituent account to respond

    Constituent Register