Congress finally gets around to honoring the women who served

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz greets Betty Wall Strohfus of Faribault, Minn., on Capitol Hill on  March 10, 2010, before she and other members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

It’s such a shame that Congress couldn’t have passed the legislation allowing women who served as pilots during World War II to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, while Betty Strohfus of Faribault was alive to see it.

Strohfus, who died in March at 96, spent the last decades of her life trying to get Washington to allow a final resting place for WASPs, the female pilots who ferried airplanes and towed targets for the guys on the ground who couldn’t shoot straight.

“It means a lot to me to be treated as the other veterans are treated,” Strohfus said in January. “You know, we haven’t been treated like the other veterans, and I think it’s too bad. We were kind of like the off-shot — if they needed us, they’d come and get us. But otherwise they didn’t really want women to fly.”

A bill naming the bison the official mammal of the United States zipped through Congress lickety-split. But honoring the women who sacrificed during World War II has been bogged down in the same unconscionable politics that women in World War II have endured since the ’40s, as the Christian Science Monitor pointed out this week.

[Nell]Bright watched one of her comrades crash one day. “We were all at the field to support her” with “our fingers crossed” as she took the plane up, only to watch it dive tragically towards the ground below. “It was very traumatic.”

When these women died, she recalls the government being officious, which is to say, not particularly kind. “One of the girls’ families got a telegram saying that ‘Your daughter was killed today. Where do you want us to send the body?’ ”

The women would take up collections for the funerals, since the military wouldn’t pay and money was tight for many families. “The government furnished a pine box. Period.” The women’s families weren’t allowed to put an American flag on the casket, either, since they weren’t officially veterans.

It took social media to whip up enough support for Congress to finally pass legislation this week allowing the women a spot in Arlington if they so wish.

The legislation now goes to the president for his signature and, if there’s any justice, an apology that it took so long.

Betty Strohfus is buried where she wanted to be — at a family plot in Faribault Hazelwood. But she would have loved to have seen her comrades get the same choice.