Lynn and Jack Yonally’s mother, Lillian, wasn’t one to brag.
“She did not tell us the stories until much later,” Lynn Yonally said Monday afternoon. “I did not hear half of these stories until I was in high school and college.”
As the siblings flipped through old photos and memorabilia, one thing was clear, despite their mom’s modesty, she wasn’t the type to sit on the sidelines, especially as a young woman during World War II.
“You look at the statistics of what they did and it just blows your mind,” Jack said.
During a two-year stretch of the war, Yonally was one of nearly 1,100 Women Airforce Service Pilots, a group that’s better known as the WASPs.
“They were a group of women who flew all of the military airplanes during World War II in the United States, they never went overseas,” Lynn said.
Yonally learned to fly when she was just 15 years old. She was a perfect fit for a group formed to free up male pilots for combat overseas.
“It was something that was important to them, that they serve their country,” Jack said.
“When we look at some of these old photos of her she was so chic in her flight gear,” Dr. Amanda Stahl said. “She flew so many different kinds of airplanes, she was an amazing lady.”
Stahl and Linda Cioffi have a hard time hiding their admiration for Yonally. Both are members of the Ninety-Nines, a nearly century-old organization for female pilots.
“It was started by Amelia Earhart and the original number of members was 99,” Stahl said.
“We have quite a few Ninety-Nines around the world and it’s a great way to network, share, support,” Cioffi said.
On Tuesday, eight decades after her wartime service, the Ninety-Nines paid Yonally a tribute fit for an aviation pioneer.
After taking off from nearby Albany International Airport, eight pilots from the group flew over the Eddy Village Green nursing home in Cohoes where Yonally now lives.
As the planes flew overhead, Yonally’s Family watched from outside the nursing home, just a few hundred feet from where their mother enjoyed the view inside the gate.
“She’s an icon, I really think that she is,” Stahl said.
Suffering from dementia and one of only a handful of WASPs still alive, Yonally watched from the ground. Her family was taking in the view from just a few hundred feet away outside the nursing home’s gates.
For a proud son and daughter, there was no better way to celebrate their mother’s legacy.
“To honor someone who has done this you couldn’t ask for a better day, it just makes you want to cry,” Lynn Yonally said.
“She was just blown away that they would do that,” Jack Yonally said. “It’s just such a marvelous thing for her.”