Four local women share their military experiences from World War II to the present
Carson City’s Hazel Ryland and three other area women served with distinction in their country’s military during different eras.
For Ryland, she entered the military in Great Britain during World War II while Dayton’s Caroll Massie, who was born in Canada, first enlisted in the U.S. Army and after a 20-year span, joined the U.S. Navy. Connie Bisbee and Kim Neiman represent the latest generations, each serving in the U.S. Air Force.
Ryland grew up in England and entered the Territorial Service (became Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1949) in the early 1940s as a teenager. Not too long ago, Ryland participated in an Honor Flight to the nation’s capital and considered the trip a wonderful experience for her and the others on the flight.
An interesting military background followed Ryland during her enlistment in England.
“I went to a base camp where they decided where we would go,” she said.
For Ryland, the military assigned her to heavy artillery, a critical specialty considering the number of times Germany flew over the English Channel to bomb parts of southern England.
“I was a spottie beginning to recognize planes,” she recalled. “They (instructors) would put up silhouettes of the planes from the America and Germany, and we had to look at those silhouettes with binoculars. They were always a long ways away.”
Ryland paused for several seconds.
“I don’t know if we recognized too many,” she said, chuckling.
Ryland first served under her father, a brigadier general, in his unit near Liverpool. Later, she transferred to another unit in London who watched for enemy aircraft entering Britain’s airspace.
“That was my war outside of London … to track aircraft,” she added.
The Carson City resident also remembered when she and other women traveled to Southampton days before the D-Day invasion in June 1944. While there, they entertained hundreds of troops who were preparing for the invasion across the English Channel to Normandy.
“We were all dating American boys,” Ryland said.
By the end of the war in 1945, Ryland said about 190,000 women fought for Britain in the war by doing various jobs. Ryland said she’s extremely proud of her duty.
“We had our own uniforms and used to wear a badge knitted on our shoulder,” she said.
A CAREER IN TWO BRANCHES
Born in Canada, Massie traveled to the United States after her father died. She enlisted in the Women’s Air Corps in 1954.
“I had many people mad at my mother because I enlisted in the WACs,” Massie said.
Massie could have had a direct assignment to the WAC band because she could play both the clarinet and saxophone, but at the end of basic training, she changed her mind.
“I turned the direct assignment down,” she remembers, “My goal was to get to Europe in a year.”
Although she switched assignments, Massie still enjoyed music, especially singing. She began as a lyrical soprano.
“Then I went to Ft. Benjamin Harrison (Indiana) where they taught me personnel management,” she said, adding there was no difference in personnel issues among the four major military services.
Her first assignment took Massie to Ft. Riley, Kan., and in 1955, she transferred to Germany, where she extended her enlistment.
“I sung with many commands, even behind the Russian lines (the Iron Curtain dividing West and East Germany) once went we went to Fulda,” she said, looking around at her audience.
During the Cold War, the Fulda Gap was the only area on the plant where large numbers of U.S. and Soviet soldiers were lined up so close to one another. Backing them on both sides were hundreds of medium-range nuclear missiles.
After her duty to Germany ended, Massie returned to the United States, but she left the Army in 1956.
Fast forward 20 years, and Massie’s life took another twist. Massie, a court reporter, married a Lyon County bailiff and soon-to-be Nevada Highway Patrol trooper. Her husband, Bill, was a retired Navy master chief, yet Massie had another strong inclination to join the military. She enlisted in 1976 and was given the rank of a chief petty officer.
“When you make E-7 in the Navy, it’s like an officer being commissioners,” she said. “It takes an act of Congress, so you are somebody.”
Massie became a yeoman in which she was responsible for administrative and clerical work. She spent the next 20 years in the Navy Reserve, going on active duty tour and attending one weekend drill a month at the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center at Stead, north of Reno.
Bisbee made a career out of serving in the military, inspired by her mother’s service. Bisbee’s mother, who died in November 2014, enlisted in the Women Army Corp in 1949 and eventually wound up serving in Korea.
Bisbee joined the U.S. Air Force in 1979 — or as she said — joined by default.
“My little brother was in the Air Force. He asked me to deliver a letter to a recruiter,” Bisbee said.
Once Bisbee arrived at the recruiter’s office, they began to talk, and Bisbee became interested in what the Air Force offered. Soon, Bisbee enlisted and took the ASVAB test and scored high in the analytical portion. She was destined to enter military intelligence field. Bisbee completed her basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and then her advanced training in military intelligence.
Even with her immersed in training, Bisbee said she saw a space shuttle piggybacked on a 747 jet and again several years later when she was assigned to Eglin AFB in Florida.
“It was getting ready to land after training,” she said. “I was very close to where the shuttle was.”
From Texas and Florida Bisbee relocated to Royal Air Force Chicksands, 50 miles southeast of London, where she worked with other intelligence experts during the Cold War. For both the British and American military, Bisbee and the others had a critical mission.
“You had young people gathering information from all kinds of sources and trying to understand that it means something,” Bisbee said.
More than 30 years ago the process was complicated because Bisbee said the gathering was recorded on paper. Even then, she said military analysts didn’t see or hear everything, but today, she said social media provided additional challenges of monitoring messages that may be detrimental to national security.
“There are too many sources to manage information,” she pointed out.
“I absolutely adored it,” she said of her new assignment to England. “I was there for three years, but out in the community, they (the residents) thought I was a girl guide because of my badges.”
After three years in England, Bisbee returned to Eglin AFB.
Since she left the military, Bisbee said she has been asked about any regrets of her service.
“My only regret is not keeping my combat boots — there is no other comfortable shoe than a combat boot,” she said.
When she left the Air Force, Bisbee threw her boots in the garbage can, a decision she still thinks about to this day.
HONOR FLIGHT ADVOCATE
Neiman retired in 2012 after serving in the Nevada Air National Guard, the U.S. Air Force Reserves and the U.S. Air Force for a total of 30 years. Before she retired, she also had a civilian career; now, she tells people she has just one career on which to focus.
Three years ago, Neiman also became involved with Honor Flight Nevada, a program transports as many military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war they fought in Washington, D.C. at no cost to them. Neiman, who has been on many flights, said the average age of the World War II veterans, for example, is 90; nevertheless, Neiman enjoys their tales of military service.
“It’s so amazing — these flights or on the bus sitting there and just doing my thing,” Neiman said. “Listening to the stories coming out of these men and women are amazing. We had our third Honor Flight that came back with 51 Vietnam veterans. It was an outstanding program and proud to be a part of it.”
Neiman’s military career also took her to unique places and to foreign lands. She first joined the military almost 34 years ago when she lived in Atlanta.
“I had been out of nursing school for about five years looking for a way to give back. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Eventually, she began commuting from Atlanta to the Charleston AFB in South Carolina during peacetime. Because of her medical background, she was able to travel to Germany, Panama or other bases on the east coast.
When Desert Shield broke out in August 1990, she was attending her reserve weekend. Her determination quickly emerged because she insisted on going to the Middle East to serve her nation.
“I am going,” she said. “I never picked up a gun in my life, but I qualified as an expert.”
Within a month, she was in the United Arab Emirate. Once Desert Storm ended, she and her family moved to Nevada where she joined the Nevada Air National Guard, where she stayed for 12 years. Her first assignment was as chief nurse.
During her final eight years in the military, Neiman drilled at Travis Air Force Base 30 miles west of Sacramento where she eventually earned a promotion to colonel.
“For eight years, I commuted back and forth (over the Sierra) through weather, construction and traffic,” she added.
Yet, one thing in common these ladies still have is their commitment to duty and their country. If they had an opportunity to relive their lives, each one said they would not have changed it. For these four women, they said it was an honor to put on the uniform and serve, both in peacetime and during war.