Oklahoma women recall days of war time work with pride

Sunday, November 14th 2004, 3:50 pm
By: News On 6

SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) _ As a young woman Maggie Babb wrapped up her hair, rolled up her sleeves, flexed her muscles and riveted airplanes to help win World War II. She shows some of her ``Rosie the Riveter'' collectibles.

93-year-old Maggie Babb remembers wrapping her hair up in a kerchief and posing just like the Rosie the Riveter on the poster. It was 1942 and the 98-pound riveter flexed her muscle just like the poster.

``It was a good time, if you can say it was a good time during the war,'' Babb says.

Babb worked three years from 1942 to 1945 at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Midwest City, where Tinker Air Force Base is now, working on C-47s. There were many ``Rosies'' from the Shawnee area who went to work to help the wartime effort.

The Rosies may have only filled in for a handful of years while men fought the war, but it provided lifelong memories.

``I was just proud to get to do it,'' Babb says of being a Rosie. ``I was never a hero. ... It taught me a lot, taught me how to do things.''

The jobs at Douglas, mostly working on the C-47s or ``Gooney Birds,'' did not pay as much as the men's jobs, but it was a lot more than most young women made.

The C-47 Skytrains were adapted from DC-3s and were one of the workhorses in World War II, carrying personnel, cargo and troop-carrying gliders. They dropped paratroopers into enemy territory.

Babb worked the swing and graveyard shifts.

``It was a good job and I needed one,'' she says.

For dinner, Babb packed fried potato sandwiches or brown bean sandwiches she made from cooking the beans until they were almost a thick paste.

One day there was a plane that was missing the nut on a bolt in the narrow rear part of the plane.

They were talking about scraping the plane because it was unreachable after the plane was put together. But not for the petite Babb.

``You know how narrow those planes are,'' she says. ``I said if I can get my head in there, my shoulders will go.''

She wedged herself through the small hole with her wrench, fixed the plane and her job evolved to ``fixing items.''

The job could be dangerous. Babb lost her right kidney from an accident while riveting on a C-47.

``I stayed with that rivet,'' she says. ``I saved the plane but it wrecked me.''

Chris Mills was 22 when she worked as a Rosie the Riveter at Douglas, working on the wings of C-47s. Her 19-year-old sister Jo worked at the other end of the plant and the pair lived in an apartment on North Broadway in Oklahoma City.

``I shot the rivets and my sister worked on instrument panel,'' Mills says. ``I was very proud of what I did.''

She says she never missed a day of work there.

``It was a pleasure working there because you thought you were doing something to help the war effort,'' Mills said.

She doesn't believe young people have the same attitude about their country.

``It's really sad that people don't take pride in our country like they used to,'' Mills says.

Sue Maxine Collins Varner also worked on the C-47s. She got up at 4:30 a.m. each morning to catch a bus to Douglas.

One day not long age, Varner was flipping through the channels on her television set when she came across a movie with dozens of C-47s.

``All of them were C-47s,'' she says. ``I sat here with tears rolling down my face.''

Varner wondered aloud whether her number might have been scrawled inside the cowling cover on one of those planes. Riveters wrote their names on pieces of the planes they worked on.

``I still have my grease pencils that I used,'' she says.

She learned how to sharpen one of the long drill bits they riveted with.

``I had never even held a drill motor before,'' Varner says.

Joann Harry was only 15 years old when she worked at Douglas with her sister Jeannie.

``We rode there and back in a rumble seat,'' Harry says.

To work at the plant, Harry was supposed to be older, but she wanted to be involved so they told the Douglas people that she was Jeannie's twin. They came up with a birth affidavit to support the charade.

She worked on B-27s, B-26s and C-47s, riveting for a few months before they started her doing blueprints.

``I thought it was great because my name was on the big blueprints,'' Harry says.

She worked the graveyard shift from midnight to 6 a.m., was back in Shawnee by 7 a.m. and went to her high school classes. She would go home to the apartment near Oklahoma Baptist University that she shared with her sister, sleep and do it all over again.

``It was quite an experience,'' Harry says.