The Original Fly Girls

Alumna honors grandmother, a World War II aviatrix

Erin Miller ’98 (back right) with her grandmother’s fellow WASP pilots and cause advocate Congresswoman Martha McSally.

Add one more to the list of Bad Girls: Elaine Harmon, World War II veteran. Her story never went in the history books, but her granddaughter, ERC graduate Erin Miller ’98, hopes to change that.

During World War II, the United States solved a severe shortage of pilots by training female civilians to fly military aircrafts. Harmon was one of the 1,100 women who volunteered for the WASPs, or Women Airforce Service Pilots, serving their country for two years until the program ended in 1944.

“They were told not to publicize what they had done, and they went home and raised families,” explains Miller. Initially, the WASPs had to fight for military recognition, only earning veteran status and retirement benefits in 1977. Their eligibility to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery was revoked in 2015, a month before Harmon’s passing. That struck a nerve with Miller.

The family launched a grassroots campaign and petition that gained over 178,000 supporters and mass media attention. In May 2016, the law was signed ensuring that Miller’s grandmother, and all other WASPs, can be buried at Arlington. Harmon was laid to rest alongside fellow veterans this past September.

“My grandmother was passionate about the legacy of the WASPs and hoped the next generation would learn about these women,” says Miller. In this spirit, Miller is working on a book, Final Flight, Final Fight, to share the history of the WASPs, the story of her grandmother, and the fight to ensure equal recognition.