Dream come true: 100-year-old naval pioneer gets her wish to fly in Navy helicopter

Winter Park woman was among first women to enlist in Navy WAVES unit

ORLANDO, Fla. – Ima Black celebrated her 100th birthday in May and one of the things she wished for was a helicopter ride. Two months later, that wish was granted.

“Fear was something that didn’t even cross my mind. I was so excited, it was so exhilarating and I was having so much fun,” Ima said from her home at a senior living community in Winter Park. “I was sitting there with all that gear on buckled down to the helicopter and the door, the amazing thing--the door was open.”

It was a moment of pure joy for Black on July 21. Pictures of the moment showed a smiling Black aboard a Sea Hawk helicopter as she waved and gave a thumbs-up, as she was flown around the USS Delbert D. Black--a missile destroyer ship named in honor of her late husband.

“I just wanted to ride in a Navy helicopter... I’ve always felt that I’m a part of the Navy. My husband and I both felt that way all of our life,” she said. “That was the most exciting thing about it because we flew over my husband’s ship. The crew was on deck and they were all waving at me and of course, I was waving back.”

But Black wasn’t just the wife of the first master chief petty officer of the Navy. Before meeting her husband of more than 50 years, she had joined the United States Naval women’s reserve unit-- a temporary unit called Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services-- better known as WAVES-established in July 1942. Black joined a year after.

Color poster by Steele Savage, 1944. 44-PA-820.* National Archives Identifier: 514315 Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives (WKMG 2021)

“I go home and I tell my family that I joined the Navy and they just about blew their top. None of my family approved of me joining the Navy. This was of course WWII and the women in service had only been in it for 1 year,” she recalled.

Eventually, her parents approved and Black left her Alabama hometown to go to New York for recruit training. She said her decision was because she wanted to see the world.

“And I did. I have seen a great deal of the world. I’ve lived in several foreign countries and traveled all over the world,” she said.

After achieving one of her life-long dreams, she said she’s grateful to see all that she’s checked off her bucket list.

“Now when I look down at that bucket, it’s almost empty because I have been able to achieve many many things that I wished for. I’ve been very very fortunate. It’s been a great life,” Black said. “Life is good.”

About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.