This week’s episode is sponsored by Insure the Heroes Inc.
Did you know the first military women pilots flew during World War II?
Many people don’t know the history of military women. And many more people don’t know that women were serving in other roles than nurses and secretaries during World War II. Erin shares the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She also shares a little about her grandmother, Elaine Harmond. One of the 1800 WASP. Let’s go back in history and learn about these amazing trailblazing women.
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Erin Miller is the granddaughter of WASP WWII pilot Elaine Danforth Harmon. Erin has a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, a Master’s in international studies from the University of Leeds (UK), and a B.A. in history from the University of California, San Diego. She is a licensed attorney in Maryland, where she lives with her two Shiba Inus.
Erin has become an ambassador for the WASP of World War II by sharing her own story of honoring her grandmother who wanted to ensure future generations learn about the history of these trailblazing pilots. You can read more of both Erin and Elaine’s story in her book Final Fight, Final Fight.
The WASP was formed in the 1940s to allow more men to serve in combat roles overseas. While the WASP were able to do missions throughout the US training the next wave of male pilots to fly overseas. They were test pilots, they were tow target pilots, faring pilots, a lot of different jobs training pilots.
Military Women Pilots
Her grandmother, Elaine Harmond was one of the 1800 women selected from over 25,000 applicants to be part of this program. She headed off to training in Sweetwater, Texas. They trained at Avengers field and completed the same training as male pilots. But were still seen as civilians by the military. To this day it is the only all-female military base that the US has had.
Erin and I talked about memories of her grandmother being passionate about tennis, but also for telling people about the WASP. She would go to events and visit museums and schools to share her experience.
Never granted military status
The WASP were supposed to become commissioned officers. They were waiting on the official legislation to pass and started serving while “the paperwork” was completed. In the end, the bill failed by a handful of votes and the WASP were never formally inducted into the Army. 38 WASP died during their service. Since they were not officially part of the military they were not given military honors or a military burial. Eventually, the program was disbanded in late 1944.
Most women went on to live their lives finding new jobs or becoming wives and mothers. A few women worked to stay within the aviation industry. And then in the 1970s, Congress forced the military to allow women to attend the military academies. People began to start talking about the first women pilots not realizing women had flown during World War II. The WASP decided they had been quiet about their service long enough. They began lobbying to get retroactive status as veterans. It took a few years, but they were eventually granted the title of veteran.
In 2015, Elaine Harmon passed away and her family requested she be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Army had recently determined that the way the law was written those granted veteran status in the 1970s could be buried at Veteran cemeteries, but not Arlington which is run by the Department of the Army.
Erin and her family decided that what Arlington had decided was wrong. They started a social media campaign along with a campaign by Change.org to help reach more people. Eventually, she was connected with Representative Martha McSally, former Air Force A-10 Pilot and representative in Arizona. She became their champion and helped get a bill in the House of Representatives started. Another bill in the Senate was also introduced.
It took six months to get the bill passed and signed. After over a year of waiting, the family was able to lay Eliane’s ashes in their final resting place at Arlington cemetery.
Everyone needs to go and get their copy of Final Flight Final Fight you will learn so much about the history of the WASP and how much work goes into getting a law changed in Congress.
Thank you Insure the Heroes for partnering with Women of the Military
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