Trailblazing WWII Pilot Remembered for Her Pluck

January 14, 2012

Geri Nyman wasn’t a typical vet. In the early 1940s, she was one of the first female pilots who flew transport and training missions across the country -- while the men were away at war. 

PETER O'DOWD: Geraldine Nyman was a WASP. That’s Women Air Force Service Pilot.  And the Casa Grande resident was one of just over a thousand who earned that distinction between 1942 and 1944.

BRUCE NYMAN: She did so much, but I think she’s going to be remembered by the war.

O'DOWD: Bruce Nyman will remember his mother Saturday afternoon at a memorial service. Geri was 91 years old. And the way Bruce tells it, those years were full of excitement. She crashed four times during her military service.  

BRUCE NYMAN: Well, one wasn’t a crash. The wheel fell off on take off.

O'DOWD: If it was in the military’s fleet, Nyman flew it. Bombers, fighters, test planes. She ferried them  from factories in Long Beach to the East Coast. She pulled targets behind her planes so that soldiers on the ground could practice firing live rounds at the aircraft above. She was shot in the arm once. In the early 1940s, so many American men were fighting abroad that women were asked to fill these jobs. Bruce Nyman remembers the time his mother was flying from California to Luke Air Force Base. She got lost in a storm, and ended up at Fort Huachuca in Southern Arizona.

BRUCE NYMAN: So she landed and all of a sudden she’s meeting with a squad of men who came out with their rifles pointed at her. The commander in charge says what flyboy let you fly his plane. She was mad. She said, you know there’s a war on and women are involved in it too. She said I need a bathroom, I need directions and I need fuel. All they did was point. Go that way.

NANCY PARRISH: The standard for excellence for women, was so much higher than it was for any man.

ODOWD: Nancy Parrish is executive director of Wings Across America, and she’s done extensive research on the WASPs. Her own mother flew the B-26 bomber. Parrish says if a WASP died in the line of duty -- and nearly 40 did -- she wouldn’t receive the military honors as men. The family had to pay for the burial. Full military recognition didn’t come until the 1970s. So the WASPs were trailblazers. Geri Nyman, especially. Parrish says Nyman was in the first graduating class of 1942.

NANCY PARRISH: And Geri, as a member of that first class, you’re always wanting to know, you were the first ones, you were guinea pigs, how was it? So much of Geri’s life she spent helping other people. She didn’t spend a lot of time talking about her accomplishments. She went out and did stuff.

O'DOWD: That’s putting it mildly for a woman of her generation. Nyman flew planes for smoke jumpers in the Western United States. She was a city councilwoman in Wallace, Idaho. She owned and managed a dime store. Later, after moving to Arizona, Bruce Nyman says his mother helped managed Barry Goldwater’s senate campaign in Pinal County. But it was the WASPs that she cherished most.

BRUCE NYMAN: She was always very proud. She was an excellent pilot.

O'DOWD: Nyman will be buried in North Idaho this summer -- with military honors. For KJZZ, I’m Peter O’Dowd.

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