The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

July 29, 2013

Riveting history: Woman recalls days making bombers for World War II

JOPLIN, Mo. — Just call her Laura the Riveter.

On the heels of the country's most recent Independence Day celebrations, Asbury resident Laura Thompson has been recording, with the help of her children, her own nationalism -- particularly during her work as a "Rosie the Riveter" employee, manufacturing airplanes during World War II alongside millions of other American women.

"It was a big time of patriotism," said Thompson, who celebrated her 89th birthday earlier this week.

Thompson's wartime effort began in 1942; American involvement in the war had already been going on for one year. She was 18 and had just graduated from high school in Cane Hill, Ark., when she noticed an advertisement in her local newspaper.

"All of a sudden, they were wanting lots of people to work in the aircraft factory, and they didn't have enough (workers)," she said. "We were at the age (in which) we were out of school and looking for a job. At the time, the pressure was on for doing something for the war effort."

Thompson, one of her sisters and a female friend took the company up on its offer. They traveled to Wichita, Kan., and completed a six-week training course in how to build war airplanes.

Being like Rosie

After finishing the course, they were unable to get permanent jobs at the Boeing and Cessna factories in Wichita, so they took the bus to Kansas City, Kan., where North American Aviation was hiring.

North American began manufacturing planes in the 1930s. New plants were built in Dallas and Kansas City in 1941, with the latter plant devoted to the building of the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber "to help squeeze the life out of the Axis powers," according to promotional material from the company.

The B-25 Mitchell, produced by both the Kansas City plant and a plant in Inglewood, Calif., was a twin-engine medium bomber with a 75-mm cannon and two .50-caliber machines guns in its nose. It was first test-flown shortly after the bombing at Pearl Harbor in late 1941, and was the airplane used by American airmen and Gen. James H. Doolittle in the Tokyo raid in April 1942, according to Thompson's old North American employee handbook.

Because the plane was so highly rated at the time and used frequently in the war zones, the women who helped build it felt its importance, Thompson said.

In fact, a message from the company president in her employee handbook highlighted their work: "To a very great degree, the continued success of America's fighting airmen depends on your ability to perform well the job at which you have been employed. Don't let anybody kid you that there's anything more important in your plant than those parts or finished planes going out the door. They are the key to victory, and your most important contribution to your nation in its hour of need."

For the next three years, Thompson worked at the factory, responsible for just one part of the assembly of the plane, she said.

"I put this part on this jig so that it would be exact, riveted together," she said. "There was a person, an inspector, that inspected our work and made sure it was OK or we would have to do it over."

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