Arlington National Cemetery added another name to its somber roster Wednesday. Elaine Harmon was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. Thanks to the passage of legislation this summer that allows for the interment of the WASP in Arlington National Cemetery she rests among others who were willing to risk it all for their nation. Just three WASP escorted Harmon to her final resting place. Only 96 remain of the 1,830 who trained and 1,102 who earned their wings; the youngest of them will turn 94 next year.
The WASP flew for the Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1944. They did what their leader Jacqueline Cochran called “aerial dishwashing,” executing jobs that no one wanted to do but needed to be done. They ferried desperately needed aircraft across the country, towed targets behind their planes to train male gunners (who fired at them with live ammunition), flew non-flying personnel, test-flew damaged and repaired aircraft, and did any other flying job the Army Air Forces asked them to do. They were unceremoniously sent home in December 1944 when, after an ugly battle, Congress failed to formally bring them into the USAAF.
A college graduate, as most of the WASP were, Harmon earned her pilot’s license through the government’s Civilian Pilot Training Program before the war began. But not everyone accepted her decision to fly. Harmon’s mother worried what the neighbors would think—it was very unladylike to fly airplanes. When Harmon’s husband was about to be shipped overseas, he thought joining the WASP would keep her too busy to worry. Despite the fact that her mother disapproved, Harmon joined the WASP so she could fly the greatest airplanes in her generation and help bring her husband home. After six months of training, she flew BT-13s at Nellis Air Force Base until the women were disbanded in time for Christmas 1944. She worked as an air traffic controller until her husband came home from the war, and together they moved on with their lives.