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Elaine Harmon, Female WWII Pilot, Finally Laid to Rest at Arlington Cemetery

Female WWII Pilot Finally Laid to rest at Arlington 0:34

ARLINGTON, Va. — It took an act of Congress, but World War II pilot Elaine Harmon was finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Harmon died last year at age 95. She was one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a group of women who flew military aircraft during World War II so that men were freed up for combat missions.

The women were not granted military status at the time they served, but received retroactive status as veterans in 1977.

WWII pilot Elaine Harmon Courtesy of Erin Miller

On Wednesday, Harmon's ashes were laid to rest at a funeral service with military honors.

Last year, though, Army officials concerned about limited space at the cemetery ruled WASPs ineligible for inclusion at Arlington. A memo from then-Army Secretary John McHugh concluded that Arlington never should have granted eligibility to WASPs in the first place.

Harmon's family fought the rule. In December, an Associated Press article about the family's campaign prompted widespread criticism of the Army for excluding WASPs. A petition on change.org received more than 175,000 signatures.

In May, President Barack Obama signed legislation allowing WASPs in Arlington. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., herself a retired Air Force pilot who was the first female fighter pilot in U.S. history to fly in combat.

Related: Female WWII Pilots Move Closer to Gaining Entry to Arlington Cemetery

Harmon's family had kept her ashes in a bedroom closet while they worked to get Arlington's exclusionary policy overturned.

Harmon's granddaughter, Erin Miller, said dozens of family members are in town for Wednesday's service, which comes more than a year after her grandmother's April 2015 death.

"It sounds funny, but we're all kind of excited," she said. "In a way, we've already grieved, and this now is about closure."

Eligibility for in-ground burial at Arlington, which has severe space limitations, is extremely tight, and not even all World War II veterans are eligible for burial there. But eligibility for placement of ashes, or above-ground inurnment, is not quite as strict.