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OTR Interviews

Female WWII pilot denied burial at Arlington

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 5, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This will make your blood boil. If you serve our nation and help fight for America's freedoms, should be eligible for burial in the Arlington National Cemetery, right? Wrong.

Female pilots who flew during World War II as part of the Women Air Force Service Pilots are denied eligibility to be buried at Arlington. That means World War II veteran Elaine Harmon, a pilot, and who died in April of last year at age 95, is excluded.

Harmon's family is launching a campaign to reverse the Secretary of the Army's decision. Arizona representative and the first female combat pilot Congresswoman Martha McSally goes "On The Record." Good evening.

MARTHA MCSALLY, ARIZONA REPRESENTATIVE AND THE FIRST FEMALE COMBAT PILOT: Hi again, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I'm furious about this. This -- and her remains, by the way, are sitting in a closet in someone's home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

MCSALLY: Right. This is ridiculous. These women were ...

VAN SUSTEREN: Her ashes, not her remains, I should say.

(CROSSTALK)

MCSALLY: ... were amazing pioneers. Many of them are mentors to me. I mean, they flew 78 different airplanes, ferrying airplanes across the country. Towing targets so that ground gunners could practice, you know, with targets. Training other pilots.

They were incredible. And they didn't get veteran status until 1977. (Inaudible) was the general at the time. We wanted them to be in the military but congress didn't approve it back in World War II.

But the fact that they are now being denied having their remains be inurned at Arlington is ridiculous. It was allowed in 2002 until, I guess, March 2015 is when the Secretary of Army quietly stopped it from happening. We're going to change that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well this is ascertained that the ashes are in this closet, in this urn. This woman who served, I mean, who did so much more than a lot of other people and risked her life. I mean, she flew with the B-17 flying fortress as a co-pilot?

MCSALLY: They flew B-51, B-29's. I mean, they flew all these amazing airplanes. A very important time for us. And again, three of them were in the front row at my change of command, when I took over command of (inaudible) squadron.

Amazing pioneers and military veterans. And they are being denied it. It's cruel. It's BS. It's toward the end of their lives. It needs to change. It's up to the Secretary of the Army, but we're going to introduce legislation probably this week to overturn it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. There are some other surviving women from this era, right?

MCSALLY: Yes. There is a little over 100 that remain living. Thirty-eight of them actually died in the line of duty while they were, you know, doing their job, flying in all these amazing different circumstances.

VAN SUSTEREN: But they weren't considered at the time in the military until 1977.

MCSALLY: 1977. They were given the congressional medal of honor, you know, congressional gold medal, sorry, in 2009.

Everyone agrees that they should have been considered active duty. We righted that wrong in 1977. And now, this legal loophole has the Army saying that they can't be inurned here.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think it's been a legal loophole. I think they're just being stupid.

MCSALLY: I think it sounded like loophole.

VAN SUSTEREN: I means like, it's dumb, it's cruel, it's stupid, bureaucratic.

MCSALLY: Bureaucratic. Yes. Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, how much space does some ashes take up at Arlington National?

MCSALLY: That's exactly it. I mean, this needs to change. I would call on the Secretary of the Army right now to make that change. But if he won't do it, then we're going to do it by legislation.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, why do you think he did that?

MCSALLY: Well, I know they are running out of room. But I think they could just ...

VAN SUSTEREN: For ashes?

(CROSSTALK)

MCSALLY: I just -- actually, I can't even say that with a straight face. I don't know. You have to ask them. This is a ridiculous decision that they have made. They did it clearly not in public. That was last March and we didn't know about it until this came to our attention in the last few days.

And it's just wrong. It's downright wrong. It's -- you know, this is the kind of nonsense that many women have had to deal within the military all the time. And these women are now - there's only a hundred remaining alive.

They served the country. They've been fighting -- since they served for the basic respect that is due to them, that they served in the military. And this is the last slap in their face.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, you were a trailblazer yourself and these women, I mean, they were real trailblazers as well.

(CROSSTALK)

MCSALLY: They were mentors for me, personally. I mean, there's three of them in Tucson. I love these guys. They really help me in very difficult times and there's so many of them that need to be honored in this way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Right. You and I -- we'll push this one. You and I will both show up at Arlington Cemetery when we get this one done.

MCSALLY: Secretary McHugh could change it tonight.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tonight.

MCSALLY: Tell him to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: We got -- we got actually -- this one we're going to get some help, Congresswoman. All right, I want your help. Actually, the Congresswoman wants your help, too.

I posted at Change.org petition on GretaWire.com. So go to GretaWire.com and sign that petition so we can persuade the Obama administration, the Secretary of the Army that Elaine Harmon's ashes should go to Arlington National Cemetery where she wants to go and where the ashes belong. This will just take seconds. So please go to GretaWire and do this. Congresswoman, thank you.

MCSALLY: Elaine deserves this, you know, this honor. Thank you.