Final Flight Final Fight: My Grandmother, the WASP, and Arlington National Cemetery
Erin Miller, author
When Arlington National Cemetery refused to accept my grandmother's last request to be laid to rest there, I refused to let her legacy as a veteran die along with her. My grandmother, Elaine Danforth Harmon, flew as a pilot with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II. Despite being part of the first group of women to fly for the United States Army, the WASP remained officially unrecognized as members of the military due to discriminatory thinking about gender on Capitol Hill and beyond. Women flying planes? Too progressive for the World War II era. When I was young, I thought of my grandmother's trips to accept awards, or to visit the White House, or to give lectures about her time in the service, as her hobby. I knew what she had done and I knew that in the 1970s they had lobbied Congress to get the veterans' status they had been denied during the war. From that point on, my grandmother shared her story of service with the WASP during World War II with anyone who would listen. But it was not until after she died that I fully understood why she had spent so many years talking about her service with the WASP. My grandmother's last request was to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Our family was surprised when the United States Army, which managed the cemetery, denied that the WASP, and therefore my grandmother, were eligible for placement in the cemetery. The Army said 'no' to the wrong family. I led our family's campaign on behalf of my grandmother, and all the women of the WASP, across social media, traditional news outlets, and to Capitol Hill to fight for their equal recognition at one of the nation's most well-known cemeteries. My grandmother's final fight came after her final flight - but I was honored to follow in her footsteps to ensure her legacy would not be forgotten.
In this moving narrative, attorney Miller recounts her resourceful family’s fight to have her late grandmother, who was one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, during WWII, interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Elaine Harmon flew aircraft and trained male pilots during the war; 30 years later, she cochampioned efforts to obtain official veteran status for the WASP. After Harmon’s death in 2015, Miller and other members of Harmon’s family kicked off a highly publicized effort for legislation to ensure that every WASP had the opportunity to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Miller describes how this fight immersed her in her grandmother’s letters, diaries, and friendships, allowing her to get to know her “Gammy” as a fearless, funny young woman who was passionate about flying. Despite her legal background, Miller was surprised at the extensive procedures that must be followed to move prospective legislation forward. In the process, Harmon’s descendants built a network of congressional and media allies, notably Air Force combat veteran and Arizona Sen. Martha McSally. Although Miller occasionally resorts to reconstructing conversations from memory, she wisely inserts revealing memories of her grandmother and shares joyous meetings with WASPs and their families between chapters covering the tireless lobbying and media efforts, which eventually succeeded. This impassioned and hopeful look at the WASP legacy and a bipartisan congressional effort will both inform and entertain readers. Photos. (BookLife)