by Hannah Wyall
"Her legacy lives on in us all."
I always knew my Grandma Marty was special. The way she carried herself was different from other people. She always had a sense of pride that lingered wherever she ventured.
Growing up with Marty was always interesting. She had so much knowledge and such a thirst for life and she loved to share it with me and my sisters. We went to the symphony, botanical gardens, the zoo, and the airport. At the airport, she would tell us stories, and we’d watch planes take off and land. On the way home, she’d sit behind the wheel and swear at the old ladies driving slow in front of her. “Move along ladybug!” she'd shout.
Grandma Marty never really treated us like children. Of course, she would let us play but she always expected us to be responsible for ourselves -- to not get lost and to be on time. Her version of spoiling us was putting a layer of butter on our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Marty was a wise woman and taught me many things, one of the most important being that nothing is out of reach. If she wanted to do something, she would just do it. She instilled that in me as well. Her stubborn genes lost none of their potency on their way down the ladder.
I am one of the fortunate few who always knew growing up that I could be a pilot. Granted, I don’t think it would have made much difference because I also wanted to be a professional NFL football player. Like Marty, I never really cared what was normal, I just wanted what I wanted. I always managed to wind my way back to wanting to be a pilot, though. Marty always encouraged me down that path and suggested that if I wanted to fly I should really think about going to the Air Force Academy. At that time though, I'd never heard of it. After all, I was in the 6th grade, but her encouragement is what started me down the path to where I am today.
While I was at the Academy, Marty managed to charm her way into getting a paid trip to see me every year to give an award to a basketball player. She also shared in my commissioning ceremony from that esteemed institution.
Every time I would go through some sort of world-ending trial in pilot training (a common occurrence for young pilots) I would think about that time she looped a plane she didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to loop. The only reason she didn’t die that day is because the one plane that was slightly different and could handle the loop was the one she happened to be flying on that particular day. If that doesn’t put the fear of God in you I don’t know what will.
Even though I got older, Marty never really seemed to age. Sure, she had some minor physical issues that come with age, but she lived on her own, drove her own car, maintained her garden, fended off the mink that would steal the orange carp out of her pond, baked yon hagels every Christmas, hiked mountains in Utah with my cousins, dance the night away with her friends, and religiously attended events including the Oshkosh Air Show and the WASP homecoming in Sweetwater. She never lost her lust for travel and adventure. She was going to outlive everyone.
Just a few months ago, Marty had made plans to visit friends in South Carolina and she asked me if I’d go to the WASP homecoming with her. I hope that I'll still be going this year, even though it will not be in the way that I'd expected.
Marty was part of the elite group, the WASP, who taught us that the word “pilot” is not synonymous with any descriptor other than “driven.” More important to me than the issued wings that I earned when I graduated pilot training are the WASP wings that I earned on that same day that grace the fingers of all the pilots in my family. Not only was Marty an inspiring pilot, she was an inspiring person. Her legacy lives on in us all.
"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
--John Gillespie Magee Jr.
Mary Anna Martin "Marty" Wyall
January 24, 1922 - March 9, 2017