WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The last time Yolanda “Tipi” Minnehan saw the uniform she wore as a member of the first class of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later the Women’s Army Corps, Gerald Ford was president of the U.S., Rubik’s Cubes were popular and first-class stamps cost 10 cents.
The service jacket, skirt, scarf and tie worn during World War II were 33 years old in 1975 when she dropped them on a counter to donate them to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and walked away.
Another 43 years later, the 98-year-old former supply officer, drill sergeant and Air Warning Service unit member joined her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and museum staff members July 6 in a private viewing of her uniform artifacts at the museum and regaled them with tales of her years of service.
The event was arranged by Minnehan’s friends Val Pugnale and Inma Kusnierek and assisted by museum staffers Jackie Heiss, curator in the Collection Management Division; and John Luchin Jr., registrar; plus Matthew Lynch of the Air Force Museum Foundation Inc.
“It means a lot that people trust us to care for their items in perpetuity at the museum,” Heiss said.
“Thank you for the artifacts you donated to the museum,” Lynch said. “This is a fantastic display and story.”
Minnehan recalled what she had to do to join the WAACs in 1942. Underweight and too short to meet the standards, she went to her grandparents’ farm to gain 10 pounds in two weeks. At 4-foot-11 inches, she also “ratted” her hair to appear taller when she was being measured. She passed and began training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
“I did what was necessary at the time. I thought it was necessary to leave college and do whatever I could do to help family or country,” Minnehan said. “I wanted to pay back for letting my grandparents and parents come from Italy to this country and not abuse them and giving them a home.”
She said she was thrilled to show her uniform to the crowd.
“I wore it with pride and wore it for a long time,” she said. “I had many good experiences in the service and in the communities where I served. Everyone treated me with respect.”
The former Yolanda Trapani met her future husband, Barney Minnehan, at Brookley Field in Mobile, Alabama, as the war ended and he was returning from the European theater. They married in 1946 and raised three children as an Air Force family, arriving for their final assignment at Wright-Patterson AFB in 1966.
Mrs. Minnehan served for years as the volunteer coordinator at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center and founded a decades-old tradition of serving soup luncheons every Wednesday during the Lenten season at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish on base. She also is one of the original International Spouses Group members on base, representing the Italian table every year at the Wright-Patterson AFB International Fair.
“She always has looked for international friends to welcome, mentor them and reminisce of her travels abroad,” Kusnierek said, “especially welcoming the Italian members in their native language and giving them pointers.”
But Minnehan never forgot her years of service. Kusnierek said Minnehan is a “walking encyclopedia” on the WACs and WWII and visited many area schools to talk about her experiences.
“They really listened when she spoke. It was wonderful,” she said.
Her life is an example of the era in which she was born and grew up, son Patrick noted.
“We call it the ‘Greatest Generation’ – how they volunteered and served, on their own, in a time of need, and it is an example for all of us,” he said.