Former WWII WASP from Cohoes fondly recalls service to nation

December 06, 2018 03:25 PM

They were not as celebrated as the men, but their work behind the scenes made it possible for the men to fly off to war and defend our country in World War II. They were called WASPs -- Women Air Force Service Pilots.

Few of them are alive today. However, NewsChannel 13 had the pleasure of meeting one, Lillian Yonally of Cohoes -- a true renaissance woman.


Growing up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Yonally loved the great outdoors. When the opportunity for a new adventure came at age 12 -- the chance to take flying lessons -- she jumped at it.

None of her friends were taking flying lessons and she still remembers how precise she had to be as a kid taking that plane up.

WEB EXTRA: What it's like to fly

At 16, she received her pilot's license and would later get a job at Grumman Aviation. Although she worked as a secretary there, she always had her eyes to the skies.

In 1942, with the United States already in the war, there was talk of using female pilots to relieve the men of certain duties so they could head into combat.

Thousands of women applied. Yonally, 21, was selected and headed to Sweetwater, Texas.

"We did the background stuff that the male pilots had been doing," she recalled.

WEB EXTRA: WWII pilot on air traffic controlling

The WASPs even towed targets for live anti-aircraft gun practice.

"You would fly past the guns and they would fire at the sleeve – hopefully," she recalled.

A year later, she was back home. The men were returning. There were no parades, celebrations, or fanfare for the women -- until March 10, 2010, when the remaining female pilots, including Yonally, received a Congressional Gold Medal.

She says she has no regrets and was happy to be of service to her country.

WEB EXTRA: WWII pilot talks about how she met her husband


Elaine Houston

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