Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II

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Donna Jean Harvey

Summer 1944

original photograph size: 2.5"x4"

When I was first asked if I wanted to contribute my memoirs, I was dubious because I felt no one would be interested. Then I decided it was important to me having contributed in some way to the war effort. So, here is my story, what I can remember of it, not in detail so as-not to bore anyone, but just state important issues as I remember them.

I was born in Casper Wyoming on January 25 th, 1922 in a raging blizzard! My parents were visiting a rancher friend when the storm broke out and we didn’t have a chance of leaving. My mother went into premature labor with me, and with the help of an old sheep herder, I was brought into the world. Mother and child survived this ordeal and when the storm broke and travel once again permissible, we left for our home in Cheyenne , Wyoming . I was raised and educated there. I was an only child. I graduated from Cheyenne High School in 1940. I married Lewis Early Harvey in January 1941. He was drafted when the war broke out and was sent to the Aleutian Islands , and from there he transferred to the Paratroopers. In October I gave birth to my first son, Lewis Early Jr..

Labor force was critical at that time so I went to United Modification Plant and learned how to rivet, do installations of various kinds and etc. When the “new” radar system was implemented, I asked to be put on that crew. The F.B.I. investigated my and found me to be worthy and I proceeded to install radar along with my riveting duties, while waiting for the next shipment of planes to come in. They were sent here from the factory, literally as “shells” and we put them together and sent them on their way to Europe and other points where the B-17’s were needed. I installed relief tubes occasionally, did some aerial installations, loaded the shells in the magazines, installed plexiglass for the rear gunners and etc. When the next shipment came in we had plenty of riveting to do and a time allotment to get them ready. I was awarded the Army-Navy E Award and was presented with a pin. I’ve always been very proud of that!!! I certainly got educated in more ways than I ever expected, being a very young girl. But looking back I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.

My feeling about the war in most instances was a conglomerate of mixed emotions. I had lived a fairly sheltered life, but I listened and learned and managed to survive, but I must admit, it left a scar on my memory that can never be erased.

I was living in one of my parent’s apartments during the war and since they were both retired, they baby-sat my young son. My mother decided after a while that she too would like to do something in some little way to help. So she applied for maintenance and between my father and the girl next door, I managed to have a baby-sitter available at all times. The government was asking for rubber donations so my mother and I gave them our rubber girdles!! We liked to think that our girdles helped win the war!!!

My life took on a totally new perspective the longer I worked there. I saw many tragic accidents, none of which I care to talk about which haunt me to this day.

I couldn’t do much socializing as I had a small infant at home to care for when off work and besides I was really pooped. Those midnight shifts were “killers”. I hope I never have to do that again!! I tried to write weekly letters to my husband in between my other duties. I had two cousins in the service but they moved around a lot and I lost track of them. I knew after the war that one of them went down with his ship and the other supposedly died at his job being an oss.personnel. (I think that’s what they called them). I did enjoy sharing stories with my co-workers as most of them were “war widows” also and we gave each other a shoulder to cry on when needed and a hug whether we needed it or not just to get ourselves through the shift.

Our community gathered together and collected scrap metals and such to help in the war effort and thanks to a good neighbor, who was growing a victory garden; we managed to get gifts of potatoes and lettuce etc. The government issued coupon books that allowed us two bananas a week, one pound of sugar and so many gallons of gas. We traded back and forth depending on our individual needs. I had a 1934 Ford and fortunately, it wasn’t a gas eater and it managed to get me where I was going when I needed it. Our family was a “Ford family” and is so to this day.

You asked me to list my most memorable character at that time and I would have to say that it was a Swiss gentleman who would climb to the top of the haystackers and yodel. (A haystacker is a sophisticated ladder with spiral steps and we used it to string the aerials from front to back on the B-17’s) it was about a story high and gave him a good platform to yodel. Everybody stopped working long enough to listen to him. I helped him many times. He was a man in his 50’s at that time, so I have to presume he is no longer living. He was a gentle person, and had a way of making a bad day more pleasant. We always sought him out for advice.

There were no unions there at that time and no baby sitting service provided. The single people formed a club and they entertained themselves after work but I was a married person with a child and so I didn’t participate in any of their activities.

While waiting for the next shipment of planes to come in I was chosen to take the “rookies” on a tour of the plane and explain their duties as such. One very gullible teacher, who had no knowledge of anything mechanical, asked what the relief tube was. I told her that it was a communication device and if she would go outside the plane and put her ear up to the opening, I could talk to her through the hole. Of course she was gullible and when she had her ear in place, I poured water down the tube!! My favorite trick. This is definitely not how you win friends and influence people, but I was usually forgiven after a short period, but was given a leery eye from then on.

After the war was over, most people went back to their previous jobs. I opened a beauty salon and when my husband returned home from the service he got a job with the Frontier Refinery. A couple of years later we had another son and named him James Lee. Both our boys are married now with families of their own. Our oldest went to the University of Wyoming and joined the Air Force R.O.T.C. and became a Master Sergeant. He has two sons and a daughter and three grandchildren. My youngest son has one son and two grandsons. I did write to one lady after the war buy she has since passed away and I’ve lost contact with any of the others that I worked with.

My husbands nerves were never good after he came home, he had bad health most of his life after that. He passed away in 1999. I remained in Laramie because I like the small town atmosphere, the college activities that go on. It’s a fun town with lots of things for us senior citizens to do.

The day the war was over, I gathered up my young son and my parents and we went to town and danced in the streets with everybody else, waved our flags and just generally whooped it up!!! Praised the Lord, it was over!! And yes, the war changed my life. My experience taught me that I am not alone in this universe. I grew up!!! It also taught me that war is hell, pure hell, and that if we don’t learn from it, we’re bound to keep repeating it over and over again. I pray that once and for all that we learn all we can from it and get the message across and that people will learn to live in peace and respect each other for who they are and just get along. GET ALONG!!!!! If we don’t, there may not be any one around next time to talk about it!! I want something more than that for the next generation. GOD BLESS AMERICA !!!

And for what it’s worth – this is my story.

Respectfully, Donna Jean Harvey

 

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