“I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When World War 2 started, my family moved to Detroit to work at the Willow Run B-24 bomber plant. My dad took me there on March 31, 1943. I applied for work on the day I turned 18. I started in the tire crib, but the tires were much bigger than me. Then they had me riveting on the wing by the fuel tank with another woman. We were worried the line would move before we had our job done, so we worked like mad. I was a young Christian girl and had never been exposed to so many men, but there wasn’t time to talk. It also wasn’t the thing to do. When the line went smoothly, we put out a plane every 50 minutes.
We were the original Rosie the Riveters. Women were proud of being a part of the war effort and having these jobs for the first time. I went from babysitting for a quarter a night to making a dollar an hour. The money went into a pile for my family and some of it went to the church.
Henry Ford donated the money to build the plant. It was a mile long. My parents worked in the cafeteria at one end and I worked on the other.
I had a great childhood. My dad cleaned furnaces and had a job during the Depression. Hobos came to the back door and my mom gave them something to eat. She and I raised chickens. We sold eggs for 10 cents a dozen and delivered them around town.
My father fought in Argonne in World War 1. In 1939, he got his bonus for serving. My parents paid off the mortgage on their house and drove my brothers and me across the country. I turned 14 before we left. We drove from Michigan to San Francisco and drove up the coast. We drove back across the country through Canada to New York City to see the World’s Fair. We lived on $1 a day. We slept on the floor of the tent and got wet when it rained. We had pancakes every morning. The driver got two and everyone else got one. We went to San Diego and drove up the coast. We counted telephone poles and state license plates for entertainment. In Miami, Oklahoma, the black chauffeurs had to sleep out of the city limits in cars because they couldn’t be in the city limits after dark. I sat with my brothers in the back seat and wrote about the trip in my journal. I kept it all of these years.
I also worked at Woolworth’s Five-and-Dime Store. When the nylon went to making parachutes instead of hose and stockings for women, I demonstrated how to draw a line up your leg so it looked like you had on seamed hose. Now I look back and think how about how terrible it was for showing my legs.
My family moved to Florida and opened a hamburger restaurant called In We Go. My whole family worked there. Our butcher gave us ground steak for the beef. I met my husband, John MacKinnon, when he was a customer. We married in 1950. John was a pilot in WW2 and flew 77 bombing missions in the B-25. He was shot down off the coast of Sicily the day before D-Day and they made it to the coast of Libya. He lived through it and was later sent to the Pacific to take pictures of the islands. He was a crop duster when I met him. He became a pilot for American Airlines and flew one million miles before he retired after 30 years.
We moved to Arlington, Texas when there nothing there. While he was working, I looked for real estate. We usually bought it. We bought farmland in Italy, Texas and moved there. I loved to walk and work on our farm. I played tennis until I was in my 70’s. I am 95 now. I am thankful for my family and everything that has happened. It has been a great life.”
Here is your history lesson to go with Elma’s story.
The story of the Willow Run bomber plant: https://www.assemblymag.com/articles/94614-how-fords-willow-run-assembly-plant-helped-win-world-war-ii
And the story of Nylon and why women started shaving their legs during WWll: https://www.wearethemighty.com/mighty-history/nylon-ww2-why-women-shave/