Pioneer female pilot, local combat vet honored

November 12, 2017 12:03 AM

ALBANY – 95 year old Lillian Yonally still remembers what it's like to fly.

“I think I'll always remember.

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Yonally is one of the first women trained to fly military aircraft for the Women Airforce Service Pilots – or WASPs.

“To relieve men who were going overseas,” Yonally said. “There was a shortage of men. And there wasn't a shortage of women.”

After receiving a private pilot’s license at age 16 in Massachusetts, Yonally began serving in World War II at age 21.

Years later, planes still excite her.

“Training and so forth in the different army airplanes,” she said. “Beautiful airplanes. Oh really.”

Yonally was one of this year's honorees at the Celebrating our Heroes Dinner Event sponsored by the Veterans Miracle Center Saturday evening along with combat veteran Terry Brown of Latham. 

“Served in Vietnam and then the Army National Guard and then the Army Reserve,” Brown said. 

When Brown is not using his therapy dogs to help people, the retired Albany Times Union copy editor writes military columns for the newspaper.

He has even written about Yonally. 

 “She helped train other pilots, including male pilots,” Brown said. 

Some of Yonally's six children attended Saturday’s event at the Albany Capital Center on Eagle Street.

Her son jack graduated college before he learned about his mother's legacy. 

“My mother flew 19 different aircraft,” Jack said. “And when I tell you how proud I am today that women are being recognized.”
Yonally and the other WASPs were not formally recognized as service members until 1977, decades after their service due to gender barriers. 

Today she lectures schools about her experience.

“When I give a talk my main suggestion is girls can do anything,” Yonally said. 

Yonally received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010. 

She spends some of her free time volunteering with Patriot Flight, which flies world war two vets to see the memorial in Washington, D.C.


Nia Hamm

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