Meet Elaine Harmon, a WWII veteran with a unique dying wish.

Before she died, Elaine Harmon wrote a letter that she left in a fireproof lockbox for safe keeping.

It was found by her family shortly after her death. Handwritten on cream-colored stationary, it contained one simple request. A dying wish.

The letter left by Elaine Harmon. Photo via CBS Evening News/YouTube.


"I would like to be buried in Arlington Cemetery,” it said. “Even if there are no ashes left, I would like an empty urn placed at Arlington.”

She knew, more than most people, how hard that would be to accomplish.

Harmon first learned to fly in 1940 during college at the University of Maryland.

Her mother, Margaret, was always against it, describing the activity as "unladylike." But her father was supportive and happily signed the initial permission slip necessary for Elaine to begin flight school.  

Elaine D. Harmon.

In 1942, with World War II in full force, Army general Henry "Hap" Arnold formed the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) after a suggestion by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

The idea was to give female pilots, many of whom had more flight experience than male pilots, a chance to help the war effort. Female pilots from all over the country started racking up flight hours in preparation, eager for the opportunity.

WASPs in 1944. Photo via Defense Video Image Distribution System.

25,000 women applied, and only 1,830 were accepted. Elaine Harmon was one of them.

After joining the WASPs, Harmon was stationed in Las Vegas, where she delivered planes and trained new pilots.

She and her fellow WASPs were as essential to the World War II effort as any male soldier. By providing training and support, they helped lead the Allies to victory.

Over time, though, their accomplishments would be slowly forgotten.

38 WASPs died during WWII. None of them received military benefits, and none were buried with any traditional military honors. In December 1940, the WASPs were disbanded without veteran status and with little thanks from their government. Even their families were banned from flying Gold Star flags, signifying a military death in the family.

Photo via U.S. Air Force.

After the war, Harmon returned to her home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Records of the WASP program remained classified by the U.S. government for 35 years.

In the 1970s, the Defense Department announced that it would officially allow women to fly military aircraft on behalf of the United States. Many media outlets reported that this was happening for the first time in history, utterly ignoring the WASP program from 30 years earlier.

Photo by Hudson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.

Shocked, Harmon and former WASPs from all over the country mobilized and began speaking and campaigning to Congress, arguing that now was the time to recognize the WASPs as veterans who served the U.S. military.

President Carter agreed and signed a law in 1977 granting the women of the WASP program full veteran status.

Decades after WWII, Elaine Harmon was officially a veteran. However, there was one thing left.

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images.

Despite full recognition, the U.S. Army maintained that it could not legally allow WASPs to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. That remained true until 2002, and when the first WASP funeral was held at Arlington, Harmon was in attendance.

Arlington is the most famous military cemetery in the country, and is the resting place of over 300,000 veterans. Being buried there is an honor for the deceased and their families — a recognition that you are one of the heroes who died fighting for your country.

On Sept. 7, 2016, Elaine Harmon was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Terry Harmon (right), Elaine's daughter. Photo by Tom Williams via AP Images.

Surviving WASPs from around the country flew in to attend the funeral and speak. “Finally, we’re over the last fight," said Florence Reynolds, a fellow pilot and friend. “I wanted to be here to make sure they didn’t fuss it up.”

Volunteers flew World War II-era warplanes overhead, and Lt. Col. Christine Blice-Baum read from a poem called “Celestial Flight,” written by a fellow WASP.

"She is not dead," read Blice-Baum. "You should have known ... that she is only flying higher, higher than she's ever flown."

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images.

Being buried at Arlington National Cemetery caps off Elaine Harmon's significant and historic military career — and at long last, honors her dying wish.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

The first few months after having a newborn are seriously stressful. It's tough to get any sleep and your entire schedule revolves around the needs of the baby.

It's expensive, too! It seems like you're constantly shelling out $25 for a box of diapers and $40 for a can of formula.

So it's understandable that a Facebook user who goes by the name of Chris Blaze asked for a deal when buying a Samsung washer and dryer set of a guy named Dave he met online.

Keep Reading Show less