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Part Three From Farm to Factory

When I asked Donita about her decision to take war jobs, she replied, “It was the thing to do: get yourself out into a war-related job” (Interview Oct. 2010). Women on the home front were not given the option of making their own decision about supporting the war or entering low-paying jobs. In the first of several positions supporting the war effort, Donita poured liquid TNT for five-hundred pound fuse model bombs at the Mead Ordnance Plant. Workers were not allowed to wear metal when handling TNT— not even a hair clip. When Donita got to work, she and the other workers changed into their factory clothes. They poured TNT by the bucketful into bombs positioned on wheeled racks of six. Then two women wheeled that cart away, carrying three thousand pounds of explosives. Naturally, that job was extremely dangerous. If one of the women handling TNT got so much as a scratch on her while working, she had to go straight to the medical office because of the risk of poisoning (Interview Oct. 2010). Just six weeks after Donita started pouring TNT, the Mead Plant paused production to transition to producing one thousand pound bombs. After performing the final pour of the five-hundred pound bombs in Mead, Donita decided she just could not wait the six weeks it would take for the plant to transition. She needed to find another war job.

The Martin Bomber Plant of Bellevue, Nebraska, like most other wartime productions, needed more and more workers to fill production orders. “We just went into the door and applied,” explained Donita (Interview Oct 2010). She was initially hired to measure and sort bolts that had been swept up off the floor of the plant to be reused (Webb). Soon, she realized that sorting bolts was a tedious and boring job. She applied and was accepted to be trained as a riveter (Webb). After joining the ranks of other Rosie Riveters at the Martin Bomber Plant, she was assigned a rivet partner to work as a team; one operated a rivet gun with ninety pounds of pressure, and the other smoothed the rivets on the back of the aircraft panels (Webb). These teams worked day-long shifts without ever seeing their partner. The only way of communicating was through a system of taps by the worker on the backside of the panels. One tap meant that the rivet was placed well, two taps meant that the rivet needed to be driven further, and three taps meant that the rivet had gone too far, and the riveter had to get her drill again and dig the rivet back out (Webb).  For more information, consult the “Home Front Heroines” essay.

Eventually, Donita got out of riveting and became a crane operator at the Glen L. Martin Plant. The ten-ton crane was used to maneuver the wings into place and attach them to the body of the B-26 bombers. She was trained for everything she needed to know about operating the crane, but there was one requirement: she had to be able to walk across the beams in the ceiling to get into the crane. However, this was no easy feat, as Donita recalls. There were no catwalks or runways to make your way securely to the crane (Interview Oct. 2010).

Through these short accounts of Donita’s jobs, I realized that she, like so many other women during World War II, risked life and limb, sacrificing twelve hours a day, seven days a week for the war effort. Nevertheless, even after getting a full-time war job, Donita was still very much needed on the farm. With her only sibling, an older brother who had been drafted into the Army, away overseas, she was expected to work a double shift:  “I would come home after I had riveted all day, and I would take the tractor and go out and work in the field until dark” (Interview Nov. 2010). Through the pressures of living in a nation absorbed with a war effort and her obligations to her family, Donita’s time, labor, and life choices were not her own.

 

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Part Four High Expectations

In August of 1945, within days of the Enola Gay dropping the atomic bomb, 15,000 workers were fired from Glen L. Martin. The war was over, and the loyal employees of the Glen L. Martin Bomber Plant were out on the street. Without hesitation, Donita enrolled in business school to learn how to do clerical work .She packed her bags, moved to Omaha, and found a room for rent (Interview Oct 2010). One day at the bus stop, a man started chatting with her (Interview Nov 2010). He did not at all impress her, but he was someone to talk with while they waited for the bus In fact, when he introduced himself, she did not bother to remember his name. Over time, they began running into each other regularly at the bus station. By Christmas of 1945, the movie