What was considered contraband on a military base back in the 1943, allowed one woman to capture her experience in color as one of the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft.
The face of 93-year-old Lillian Yonally, of Massachusetts, one of just 1,078 women who were the first in history trained to fly military aircraft in the United States from 1943 to 1944 as a WASP, or Women Air Force Service Pilot.
Tuesday night at the American Legion in Greenville, Yonally was recognized for her accomplishments and shared some of her experience.
“The telegram came while I was at my 21st birthday party,” she remembers.
Yonally says at the time she received notice of her departure the following Monday, she was working at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation in New York where she obtained her air traffic control license.
She remembers unpacking her suitcase when she arrived in Texas for training and wondering why her father decided to send high heels, something she would never wear as a WASP.
Yonally flew everything from primary trainers to the best military pursuits and bombers.
“We were quite scared when they checked, because if they didn’t like what you did and felt you weren’t competent, then you could be sent home.”
And with her forbidden camera, she was able to capture color photographs of her friends, the planes she flew and her instructors.
WASP’s flew more than 60 million miles on every kind of mission, except combat, before being disbanded in 1944.
Yonally later married and raised six children, one of which is a retired lieutenant colonel and resides in Eastern Carolina, where they will be spending time together for the holidays.
“To give back to your country was something that was always done in my family and was never spoken about,” says James Yonally. “My mother and father both did it. We found out later in life about all of the wonderful things they had done and sacrificed, we just carried on the tradition.”
Some of Yonally’s photos were printed in WWII magazine in 2010. That same year, she received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C.
Still so passionate when speaking about women in flight, Yonally says she loved what she did. “If you can do something for your country, you should, because you would get more from it than you would if not. Really, it’s good.”
Yonally says the assignment of women pilots was supported by Eleanor Roosevelt to free up male pilots for combat missions.
She says although it wasn’t something she talked about often, it was a remarkable experience.