Profiles By: Shauna L. Benjamin
Popular memory calls World War II “The Good War,” conjuring up images of veteran war heroes in an ideological struggle against totalitarianism, civilian murders, and genocide. Paul Fussell, a war veteran and historian, describes a far less noble motivation: “To get home you had to end the war. To end the war was the reason you fought it.” (qtd. in “Culture in World War II”). Even in this simple way, “home” was one of the most important and inspiring elements of the war effort. Although the trite adage that “a woman’s place is in the home” did not exactly change, the meaning of “home” was redefined. “Home” became not simply one’s domicile, but swelled to encompass something bigger than a single family and drew together the “family” of this nation. The American homeland was in need, and when the men answered their nation’s call to war, the women accepted the calling to take care of the homeland. Decades ago, those women of the home front occupied the minds of soldiers overseas, but they are far from forgotten here in the twenty-first century.
The culture of the home front during World War II captured my interest at an early age. I idealized Rosie the Riveter. Rosie made it tolerable to be who I am. When I was thirteen, she told me that it was all right if I was tall, strong like the boys, and still wanted to be feminine. I loved perusing pictures of real women in factories, wielding machines against raw materials like heavy artillery against a tradition that told them women shouldn’t do “men’s things.” I loved wrapping my mind around the contradiction of Rosie’s look: perfectly coifed hair swept up into handkerchiefs, lipstick skillfully painted on, and worker’s coveralls with steel-toed books. At thirteen, Rosie the Riveter reminded me that women of generations past had gone before me, fought at the frontlines of the gender divide, and successfully bridged
The so-called “liberation” of women that took place during the early 1940s was merely one of geography—women were asked to shed the shackles of full-time homemaking and don the harness of wartime factory production. By the summer of 1942, barely six months after the United States’ entry to the war was initiated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, men had almost completely disappeared from the workplace (Mitchell; Webb). The draft and calling to enlist had plucked up babes as young as eighteen from their hometowns, wiped them off, shaved them clean, and sent them off to war. Our communities here in Nebraska lost one in five young men to overseas service 1941–1945 (Webb). As casualties mounted and the war continued, the need for soldiers, supplies, weapons, and workers increased. The American government responded by reclassifying fifty-five percent of jobs, allowing
On August 6, 1945, a bomb was dropped from a B-29 Superfortress Bomber over Japan (“Boeing B-29 Enola Gay”). The nearly nine thousand pound atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima, Japan killing over one hundred forty thousand men, women, and children. This day is regarded as the defining moment of World War II and is credited, along with a similar bombing in Nagasaki, with ending the war. However, before its infamous mission, this B-29, dubbed “Enola Gay,” came from somewhat humble beginnings (“Boeing B-29 Enola Gay”). Without the women workers of Bellevue, construction of the “Enola Gay” would not have been possible.
Just over one thousand residents watched a simple cinderblock building rise from the cornfields of rural Bellevue, Nebraska. Construction on the Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant began in the spring of 1941, even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (“Building