Geri Elder Lampere Nyman
April 6, 1920 – December 30, 2011
Training Location: Houston Municipal Airport (Tex.)
Planes flown: B-24 and C-47
Assigned bases: Long Beach Army Air Base (Calif.)
“Jackie Cochran called me to her New York apartment. She had just been told that she could have 25 women to start the WASP. She showed me a copy of a letter…from the War Department to the Commanding Officer, Houston. It said, “We know we have to give these women a chance to fly. We do not think they will ever be able to fly military airplanes. Get rid of them as soon as possible. So, twenty-five of us went to Houston and beat the odds. We became Class 43-W-1.” WASP Geri Nyman, November 2001
Geri was born in Emmett, Idaho in 1920, just when the Pacific Northwest was getting its ten-year head start on the Great Depression. Geri spent some of her early years with her paternal grandmother, Mattie, a beaver trapper who lived on a remote Wyoming ranch. One of Geri’s favorite pictures is astride her enormous horse, accompanied by her dog in front of the nearest one-room school house.
Most of Geri’s youth was spent accompanying her parents – an itinerant barber and a fruit packer – as they traveled from town to town and camp to camp in their Model A roadster in search of entrepreneurial opportunities. The life apparently suited her; by the time she graduated from high school, Geri had skipped two grades, led her high school debate team, and learned to sew, weave, crochet and knit every fiber she could find.
After two years of college, and a few months of small jobs, Geri decided that she wanted to fly. She agreed to do the bookkeeping at the local air field in exchange for flying lessons and quickly became a flight instructor, moved on to taking hunters into the wilderness, and then graduated to piloting multi-engine planes for smoke jumpers.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, everything shut down on the west coast. Nyman was within 200 miles of the coast. The flying school was shut down. She took off for New York on a bus and stopped along the way to get flying lessons. Nyman got to New York eventually and that is where she met Jacqueline Cochran. Nyman was a 23-year-old with over 2000 hours flying multi-engine aircraft. It was just the experience the WASP were looking for. Cochran had taken 20 women to England to fly with the Royal Air Force. Cochran invited Nyman to go in the next batch of 20.
Cochran called frantically a week later saying she had finally gotten approval to form the Women’s Pilot Service but expressed concern that she needed to have women who were well qualified. She also wanted women who had lots of guts. Cochran showed Nyman a letter from a high up in the Air Force. The man who wrote it said that he was told he had to make sure he gave the women an opportunity to fly, but that he knew women could never and would never be able to fly military aircraft and to get rid of them as soon as possible. They had more flying time than any instructor on the base and they did not even have any military aircraft. Once they realized that the girls were able to fly the planes successfully, they brought military aircraft onto the base.
Nyman was in the first class and they graduated successfully at Ellington Field. Cochran asked if the women were to receive wings, she was told they were not. In response, Cochran personally bought the first graduating class of WASPS their wings. They were very special to everyone.
After the war Geri helped her new husband, Van (whom she had met on a troop train) earn his flying license, and they moved to Alaska, where they owned and operated a bush pilot service. After four years – which produced three sons (Paul, Ken and Bruce) and an airplane- shaped hole in the ice – they moved to the mining town of Wallace, Idaho, where Geri owned and managed a dime store while Van completed his engineering degree.
While in Idaho, Geri was the only woman on the Wallace City Council, attended the 1964 National Republican Convention, helped Barry Goldwater win one of the least conservative counties in Idaho, was PTA parent of the year, and was active in Eastern Star, PEO, the League of Women Voters, and the Episcopal Church. And in 1970, she was in charge of the Census for Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
Meanwhile, she sewed her sons’ shirts, knitted their sweaters, darned their socks and supervised as they washed and ironed their own clothes.
Geri and Van moved to Casa Grande in 1971. In 1976, Geri helped manage Barry Goldwater’s Senatorial campaign in Pinal County – which he had never won. He won the county by one vote.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, she won several first prizes for her pine needle baskets at the Arizona State Fair.
With fearless determination and a deep sense of patriotism, Geri Nyman and her fellow classmates became the FIRST women pilots in history to complete the Army Air Forces “Women’s Flying Training Program,” graduating and earning their silver WASP wings on April 24, 1943.
Texas Women’s University, Denton, Texas. WASP collection
Wings Across America