Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ruth the Riveter

Marilyn Delehant (L) and Ruth Johnson (my mom)
Goodyear plant, Havelock, NE 1945
My mom logged hundreds of hours in the B-29 bomber—but not in the way you might think. She was sixteen years old when she went to work in the Goodyear war plant located in Havelock, Nebraska. The year was 1945.

She lived on ‘H’ Street in Lincoln and took a bus to the factory for her 2pm to 10pm shift with her friend and co-worker, Marilyn Delehant. The normal shift ran from 3pm to 11pm, but because they were under the age of eighteen, they weren't allowed to work past 10pm. She remembers that about ninety percent of the workers in her plant were women.

This wasn't your ordinary after-school job for a teenage girl. This particular factory manufactured gas tanks for B-29 bombers—eleven rubberized, self-sealing tanks fitted side-by-side into each wing of the aircraft. The plant paid my mom extra because she was small enough to fit inside the tanks to do maintenance. She brought little fans into the tanks with her so she could keep cool as she worked—sanding rough patches of the layered rubber fabric that comprised the tanks, removing burrs, or affixing patches, as necessary.

She worked in the factory until her 17th birthday, August 14th, which also happened to be VJ Day. When news of the war’s end was announced, the factory workers abruptly stopped what they were doing and everyone flooded into Lincoln to celebrate. Everything shut down—businesses, buses  taxis, everything—and just as in cities across the United States, Lincoln found itself host to an enormous spontaneous block party. What an unbelievable way to celebrate a birthday!

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