A Tale of Tenacity, Erin Miller’s “Final Flight Final Fight” Proves One Person Can Make a Difference

9:01 AM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

We’ve all heard it before, how some of us “want to change the world.” Those intentions are truly noble, but few ever rise to the level of hardcore perseverance that allows us to be victorious in that quest. Changing something you see as an injustice is a huge endeavor, and when it means taking on a legal behemoth as big as the United States Army, the challenge will be enormous, and the roadblocks will be many. It takes a certain kind of tenacity to win this kind of battle. It takes a person who can face adversity and what seems like insurmountable odds to learn on her feet, rally together a nation, and ultimately win.
Author Erin Miller is that kind of person.
I have just finished reading her new book “Final Flight Final Fight – My grandmother, the WASP, and Arlington National Cemetery.” Before I give you my review, let’s set the stage:

Miller’s Grandmother, Elaine Danforth Harmon – referred to in the book as “Gammy – was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. When she passed, Miller’s family learned in her papers that as a veteran, it was her wish to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. But when the family applied to make that happen, they were denied by the U.S. Army, which runs the cemetery. The Army no longer would allow WASP to be buried there. I won’t go into the details of why the denial occurred; you will need to read the book for that. Let’s just say it was a snafu of the highest order, one that sparked something in Miller to right this wrong. And that spark lit a fire, and that fire burned hot to fix what Miller and her family viewed as dishonoring not only their Gammy, but also every other WASP living or dead. So Miller – assisted by her sisters and mother – took on the U.S. Army in what is referenced in the book as the chapters named “Final Fight.”

What is apparent in this self-published book is the quality of the writing. Most self-published books are sub-par works that I cannot get through, but this one is different. It is tightly edited, and might as well have Random House in the spine. Miller builds the story well, mixing chapters on WASP history and her relationship with Gammy in between chapters on the actual fight. These “Final Flight” chapters will teach you about the WASP, and honor their WWII service very well. But what stands out here is Miller’s explanations that to her, as a little girl, Elaine Danforth Harmon was just Gammy, not a WWII veteran who flew airplanes for the war effort. It is the juxtaposition of Miller’s splendid, heartfelt descriptions of Gammy, coupled with her grandmother’s service to her country, mixed with the "final fight" that kept me turning pages.
You soon realize in this book that Miller and her family were in this to win, and they were going to do anything to get the U.S. Army to change their rules to allow Arlington burials of WASP. When Representative Martha McSally – a former fighter pilot who is now a United States Senator – comes into the picture in the book, McSally explains that it literally would take an “act of Congress” to turn this rule around. This is the point in the book when you see Miller and her family really jump into the fray and begin fighting with every legal weapon they can muster.
What strikes me as wonderful in this book are two things.

First, Miller – who is a Washington, D.C. attorney – understands the law so she is able to eloquently explain the intricate details of the situation. It is apparent in the book that her law training paid off as she sifts through the red tape that smothers our government and decipher just what needs to happen to get Gammy the burial she deserved. Secondly, Miller’s writing style is humble, authentic, and refreshing. She does not talk down to her reader, she has a friendly conversation with them. An example is when she describes how she knew almost nothing about social media at the start of this final fight, but by the end, she had leveraged this important digital universe so much that the nation was behind her.

This book is worth the read for many reasons. First, it honors the WASP and what they did, and educates the reader about this important group of female pilots. While that is great material, what I came away with is the understanding that one person can make a difference, and change things that need changing. This is a textbook example of unbridled tenacity. You will get physically tired trying to stay up with Miller as she beats pathways through the Halls of Congress knocking on doors, doing endless TV and print media interviews, or working social media and her email almost 24/7 while somehow also holding down a full-time job. You will also learn that what you thought would be sufficient effort to force the U.S. Army to change a rule isn’t even close.
I met Miller over a bowl of Camp Bacon Jambalaya at Oshkosh in 2016, and it was her first time at the show. She writes about the experience in the book, and for any #avgeek, these are very entertaining pages. During that Camp Bacon encounter, I found Erin to be quiet, unassuming, even reserved. Truth is, she was somewhat overwhelmed by the enormous aspects of AirVenture, and she describes the show well. At the time, she was planning Gammy’s funeral, and working on this book. But there was something about her that stood out, something that grabbed you and pulled you in because you had to know more:
The Tattoo.

You see, on Miller’s right forearm is a tattoo that says “114th Congress, 2D Session H.R 4336.” This is no tiny tattoo, it is big, in your face, right there for everyone to see. When someone cares so strongly about a bill in Congress that they etch it forever into their skin in permanent ink in plain sight, it becomes instantly apparent that this person means business.
No spoiler alert here, go get this book (buy it here on Amazon), you will love every word.
Now, if you wish to win a free copy autographed by Erin Miller, answer the following question and submit. I will choose what I believe is the best answer on Friday, May 3, and Miller will ship you copy direct.

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