The Women of the WASP deserve Full Military Honors
Arlington National Cemetery - a place where our nations' veterans are honored
- or are they?
Please read, and act upon, this letter from Pat Jernigan which describes an egregious situation that needs to be remedied now:
Some of you may not be aware of a situation in progress. In February, a former WASP, Mrs. Irene Englund, died in New York City. She was from New Hampshire, but had been in NYC visiting when she was suffered a stroke. When the family began to make arrangements for inurnment at Arlington, they were stunned to find that Arlington National Cemetery did not consider Mrs. Englund a veteran at all, and she would be entitled to burial there only because her husband, a WW-2 Navy vet, was inurned. Mrs. Endlund's daughter wrote a very moving letter to the editor of the Washington Post on May 12th (Mother's Day), and it is the publicity surrounding this that has gotten some action by the Army.
Arlington National Cemetery, alone of the active VA cemeteries, is run by the U.S. Army, not by the VA. The VA has recognized the WASP as veterans for many years. Arlington has refused. On June 1st, the Washington Post carried the information that the Army had decided to recognize all who fall under the Public law (see below) with "standard honors". There is a difference in honors based on rank. Enlisted personnel typically receive standard honors, officers receive "full" honors.
Think most of you are familiar in general terms with the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). When the war started there was a severe shortage of pilots and the military, while training as many as they could, was in a serious bind. At this point two women's groups helped ease the shortage: the WAFS (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) and the WASP (later included both groups). There were two major differences between these pilots and their US AAF brothers: (1) they were women, and (2) while the men were commissioned officers in the AAF, the women were civilian employees.
When the shortage of male pilots ended in late 1944, the women who had compiled a terrific record and who were on the verge of being taken into the AAF, were instead summarily terminated. It was up to them to provide their own transportation home. As civilians, they were entitled to no veterans benefits.
Fast forward now to 1977. After a long fight, championed by Senator Barry Goldwater and Senator Bob Dole, the WASP finally achieved recognition as veterans under PL 95-202. This law provides stringent criteria by which a group's individual members can apply for veterans status. Once accepted, they are entitled to full veteran's benefits, however, the law does not provide retroactive recognition. The groups that fall under the law include the WASP and the WAAC.
Based on the law the Veterans Administration recognizes these women as veterans. However, the DoD implementation of the public law (DOD Dir 1000.20) states that a determination of status will NOT (that's not) be made unless specifically requested. It's not really needed for veterans benefits except one: burial honors are provided based on rank/status.
You probably know that the WAAC included both officers and enlisted women. The officers wore the same rank as their male counterparts, they were lieutenants, captains, and perhaps a major or two. While many WAAC took advantage of the opportunity to convert to WAC in 1943, not all did. The Army's ruling says all women who served only in the WAAC will be buried as enlisted regardless of actual status.
That's what we're fighting at the moment. Both groups have been recognized by Congress, DoD, and now the Army as bona fide veterans of WW-2; both groups are eligible for veterans' benefits. Even Arlington now recognizes their status as veterans.
WAAC and WASP (and other veterans) should be given the final honors based on their status. All WASP who completed flight school were officer equivalent -- men who completed flight school were commissioned. The WASP were treated as officers (they stayed in BOQs, were eligible for membership in officers' clubs, ate in officers' messes, wore insignia associated with officers, served on investigative boards that only officers served on, etc.)
In both cases, the distinction between the women and their male counterparts was their gender. The women were purposely, with malice and with intent, and by the will of Congress, precluded from enjoying status as veterans that was accorded their male counterparts.
If you think this is wrong, please send an email to your congressman (woman) and senator, the Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, the Commander of MDW (responsible for Arlington) and anyone else you can think of.
You can locate persons in Congress quickly by going to www.senate.gov or to http://www.house.gov/writerep/ and inserting your zip code. Lengthy messages aren't needed -- just tell them the WASP, WAAC and others should receive final honors based on their equivalent status!
For Arlington Cemetery: e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Commander, MDW is MG James T. Jackson. An email link to the Public Affairs Office is at their site: http://www.mdw.army.mil/ at the bottom of the page under "Feedback."
If you are in the Washington area, the services for Mrs. Englund will on Friday, June 14th at Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial service at the Ft Myer Chapel will preceed inurnment. For details, contact Arlington Cemetery at 703-695-3250.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE #R-02-036 June 10, 2002
ARMY APPROVES MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS FOR ACTIVE DUTY DESIGNEES AT ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
The Army announced today that individuals from 37 groups known as Active Duty Designees, who served the country during World War I and World War II in a capacity considered civilian or contractual service at the time, may now receive military honors when their remains are inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. The groups include Women's Air Force Pilots (WASPs), Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs), Flying Tigers, battlefield ambulance drivers, female civilians who served with the U. S. Army Nurse Corps at Bataan and Corregidor, ocean-going members of the Merchant Marine and defenders of Bataan and Wake Island.
The groups were recognized in 1977 by Public Law 95-202 as eligible, subject to Secretary of Defense approval, for all laws administered by the Veterans' Administration. Active Duty Designees already are eligible for inurnment at the Columbarium at Arlington as a result of the 1977 law, but they remain ineligible for burial there.
The military honors the Active Duty Designees will be given at Arlington include a military chaplain and a detail of up to 16 servicemembers to serve as body bearers, conduct a rifle salute, fold and present the United States flag to the family of the deceased, and play Taps. The honors at Arlington go beyond those honors required by statute and are equivalent to or more extensive than honors provided to veterans at Veterans Administration and private cemeteries, which are sometimes constrained by personnel available.
The Honorable Reginald J. Brown, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, made the decision after learning of the situation of former WASP Irene Kinne Englund. As a result of the decision, Englund, who died in February, will be inurned with Air Force military honors on June 14, 2002, at the Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium. Englund was already eligible for inurnment there because of her service with the WASPs and because she was the widow of an Army officer, but she was not previously eligible for military honors.
"We want to thank Mrs. Englund's daughter, Dr. Julie Englund, for bringing this issue to our attention. The men and women who served in these groups that flew air transports, defended Bataan and Wake Island, flew in Burma and performed a myriad of other valuable and often dangerous services deserve this recognition of a grateful nation," said Brown.
Extensive legal research was required before the Army could determine the eligibility of the groups for military honors. Section 1491 of Title 10, U. S. Code, requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a funeral honors detail upon request to any "veteran," defined as, among other things, "a decedent who served in the active military, naval, or air service," as defined in Section 101(24) of Title 38. That Section, in turn, defines the term "active military, naval or air service" to include "active duty." Since Active Duty Designees are considered to have served on active duty for purposes of Title 38, the legal review concluded they are therefore veterans under Title 10, Section 1491, U. S. Code, and eligible for military funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Active Duty Designees performed a variety of duties in both World Wars, although most served in World War II, a conflict that called for unprecedented commitment and sacrifice by all Americans. The smallest group is three individuals who served as scouts or guides assisting U. S. Marines in offensive operations in the Northern Mariana Islands from June 19, 1944, through September 2, 1945. The largest group is probably the ocean-going Merchant Marines. About 243,000 people served in the Merchant Marine in World War II, and 9,349 were killed.
The Women's Air Force Pilots (WASPs) were formed during World War II so the nation could gain military benefit from the talent and experience of women aviators. They ferried military aircraft, transported air inspectors and medical patients, and towed aerial gunnery targets.
The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) supported the Army during World War II. They numbered about 45,000 by 1943, when the WAAC became the Women's Army Corps
Also included are a number of American Field Service members who served as ambulance drivers during both World Wars, civilian employees aboard some ships, civilian Navy IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) technicians who served in the combat areas of the Pacific during World War II, and civilian crewmen of certain U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey vessels.
Members of the media may call 703-697-7550/5343 for more information. For general information on Arlington National Cemetery, call the Military District of Washington Public Affairs Office at 202-685-4645. For questions about eligibility for inurnment and military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, call the Internment Services Office at 703-695-3250.
After flying B-24s and other U.S. bombers in support of the nation's armed forces during World War II, Irene Englund assumed she would at least be entitled to a flag at her funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
On this Flag Day, she got her wish. After a rifle team fired three volleys and a bugler sounded taps through the gray, wet air, an Air Force chaplain lowered herself to one knee and presented an immaculately folded American flag to Englund's daughter.
WASP Pilot Irene Englund is at rest in Arlington National Cemetery.