Texas Women and World War II

Original Airdates: August 17, 18, 20 (2010)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

With its many army airfields and factories during World War II, Texas was full of opportunities for women. The war offered some the chance to work outside the home in positions previously dominated by men and gave others a chance to see the world.

Cherokee County native Ona B. Reed remembers her time as a "Rosie the Riveter," working on B-24 bombers and C-87 cargo planes at Consolidated Aircraft in Forth Worth:  

Two people work together, the riveter and the bucker. It's a matter of putting two pieces of metal together. So you drill a hole, depending on the size of the rivet it took, and then you put the rivet in there and put the gun against the rivet. And the bucker was behind—and maybe you couldn't even see her—but she held a bar up against the other side of the rivet, and you thrrrrrrrrrr (mimics sound of rivet gun). And then the bucker would either hit (hitting noise) one time for good or two times to take it out, depending on what kind of head she got on the other side.

Always on Reed's mind were the men who would be flying the planes she helped to build:

They really emphasized this: that every rivet should be perfect because just one little vibration and it can mess up the whole plane if it were right, was in a critical spot or something. So I thought about it a lot because I had a number of cousins who were pilots, and the man I married after the war was a pilot. So I had personal reasons to be very careful with what I was doing.

Flora Wunneburger of Austin, who was in basic training when Japan surrendered, recalls her experiences as a volunteer for the army air corps following World War II:

From Scott Field I went overseas as a flight nurse at Hickam Air Force Base, which was a beautiful place to be. And stayed there, was flying in and out of Japan and the Philippines. What we would do—the planes didn't have enough gas, and you had to stop at every island just about on the way back. And in Japan, they were still under the American control. It was a nice, clean place, and the people were nice. Of course, my country was saying, You do this, you do this [to Japan]. But, anyway, we would go in there. And there was an old airfield that we went into at first, but later on they got it fixed up, had Haneda [Airport, also known as Tokyo International Airport] to land in. And we would go out to different places because we'd get in there and then have some free time. And I loved going down to Osaka. Oh, it was so pretty down there. Or we'd go up in the mountains. And it was real funny: you'd get on these trains, and they would have their goats and then have their chickens with them. So you had to get into another compartment, or you'd have goats and chickens with you.

The role that American women played in World War II is immeasurable. Their country needed them, and they responded. Their experiences during these years inspired many women to begin demanding equal rights for their gender at home and laid the groundwork for a second wave of the women's movement.

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