A “Rosie” at Willow Run: The WWII Story of Katherine Sakalay Brown

Katherine Sakalay.   

 

“Rosie the Riveter” became a cultural icon in WWII history.  But not all “Rosies” used rivet guns.  During WWII women went to work in factories, shipyards, and munitions plants.  They made war supplies and did industrial work when the men went off to war.  This story is about a “Rosie” named Katherine (Kay) Sakalay who worked (without a rivet gun) at Willow Run in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Consolidated  B-24 Liberator heavy bombers were produced during WWII.

 

In 1942 artist  J. Howard Miller was commissioned by the Westinghouse Company War Production Coordination Committee to make posters for the war effort.  This is one of his posters.  The poster itself was not known as “Rosie the Riveter” until after WWII.  Canada had a similar poster called “Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl.”

 

Consolidated B-24 Liberator.

 

Willow Run is remembered as one of the major manufacturers of the WWII Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber.  The first B-24 rolled off the assembly line in September 1942.  By the end of WWII, 8,685 B-24s were produced at the Willow Run location.

 

In 2013 Kay wrote of her working life at Willow Run during WWII.  

 

March 9, 2013

I am Katherine Sakaly Brown.  I will be 90 years old this August and now live in San Antonio, Texas.

My parents George and Eva Sakaly immigrated from Greece, my father from Bergama (then Greece, not Turkey) in late 1910 and my mother from the island of Lesbos in the early 1920s, both coming through Ellis Island on a quota.  They met and married in 1921, and I was born in 1923 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the stadium for the University of Michigan is now located.  They [the State of Michigan] declared my parents’ property eminent domain, and they had to move.  I was told I was born on the 40 yard line.

My parents moved to Petersburg, Michigan, about 60 miles north of Ann Arbor, built a home and grocery store with a gas station.  I went to school in Petersburg from 1st grade to high school graduation in 1941.

I was hired for my first job at Willow Run (Ypsilanti, Michigan) I believe in February 1942.  This plant was to build the B-24 bomber known as the Liberator.  At the time I started working only part of the structure was built, only the tool and dye shop was completed, and the remainder of the plant was wide open with construction.  We were given uniforms in about a year, and our name badges designated the area which you were supposed to be working.  The plant worked 3 shifts a day non-stop until 1945.  I believe it numbered something like 40,000 employees, trains were sent to the south to hire people to staff the factory, most of them never returned to their hometown.  All employees had to punch a time clock, in and out, and if you were a minute late you were docked 15 minutes of time.

Henry Ford was instrumental in building the factory, staffing, and producing the B-24 Bomber.  I remember seeing him walking through the plant at various times with a couple of his staff.  He was reported to be a stern, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-union individual.  There was no smoking in the factory at any time.  He did not live to see the final plane leave the plant, however, Henry Ford II was there when it was towed from the plant to the hangar.  There was a picture of this event, and I was seen in it, my rear view that is.

I first worked at a crib, which was a small station within the factory, keeping inventory of parts used and parts to be ordered.  From there I became something like a runner, taking small parts where they were needed.  Our lunch period was 15 minutes, and they would bring in caterers in portable chuck wagon types of structures.  You ate wherever you were standing or sitting.  The food was typical GI food in the military, served on metal trays; it was this or bring your own meals.  We had lockers on the second floor; these were located around the sides of the plant also the laboratories, etc. were on the balconies.

The parking lots were a nightmare.  You had to remember where your car was and which side of the plant you had parked or you would be there for hours looking for your transportation.  Car pooling was a must.  I had a 1940 Buick that we used when it was my turn to drive.  We changed cars, each passenger taking their turn, and we paid the driver when we were passengers.  I don’t remember how much we paid.  We had gas rationing; when you worked for a defense plant you had ample gas for your trips.  The coupons were a must for us.  During the first 2-3 years, most employees had to work all 3 shifts when their turn came.  Later on, when I was transferred out to the hangars, my shift remained on the day shift.

I wish I could remember when the first plane was finished and taken out to the hangar, but it was a great day for all of us.  The plant itself was a mile long in size, not counting the hangars and the administration building which were separate buildings.  From the parking lots one had to climb a very tall staircase to cross over to the factory itself, you could not walk in from the parking lot to the plant.  Your ID was checked when you got to the inside of the plant.  Badges were part of your anatomy, pictures, and IDs as to which part of the plant you had to access.

Underneath the balcony were offices for different officers to conduct their operations.  I wound up in one of them for quite some time.  There were offices up on the balconies also as well as a cafeteria later on.  If you did not have the proper identification you could not walk through the plant to look around.  You stayed in the area where you were assigned to work.  I never had anything to do with putting the airplane together;  I was always in a clerical type of job.  I never got inside of the B-24 until I was assigned to the hangar areas and then only to stow the confidential information aboard and get off.

There was an altitude chamber in the hangar which dropped the oxygen, temperature, etc. ranging from the ground level to several thousand feet in a very short time.  I got in it when it went up to 12,500 feet, and it was a light-headed feeling.  You were told to talk a bit when you were in various stages of rising altitude.  It was rather large, capable of holding several people at one time.

There was a huge mound on the grounds where they practiced shooting all the [B-24] guns.

When the planes were finished a factory pilot had to pre-flight the plane to make sure it was good enough to pass on to the United States Army Air Force.  When the weather was bad, this was Michigan, and we had a lot of nasty weather, the planes would stack up on the aprons until weather cleared up for a pre-flight.  When the planes were OK’ed by the crew, etc. they were turned over to the military that came in to ferry the aircraft where they were designated to go.  The pre-flight crew consisted of four men: a pilot, co-pilot, radio man, and flight engineer.  When they completed their check, then the plane was turned over to military pilots.  [Willow Run had 1,300 cots for military crews to sleep while they waited for their assigned B-24 to roll off the assembly line.]

 

B-24 Liberator Check List.

 

When it was no longer necessary for them to manufacture the B-24, the plant was shut down.  Their goal was to make a B-24 every hour.  I don’t know if that goal was ever reached by the end of WWII, I am sure it was.  [At its peak in 1944 a B-24 rolled off the Willow Run assembly line every 63 minutes.]

Over 8,600 aircraft were manufactured and an equal amount of parts manufactured for planes already in service.

 

In one of Kay’s great stories about Willow Run she tells of attending a meeting there with B-24 pilot James Stewart who was visiting the plant.  She said Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart was a friendly, down-to-earth man who was very tall. 

In the late 1940s Kay accepted a job with the United States (US) State Department and worked for a time in post WWII Germany.  From Germany she relocated to Paris, France, and worked on special assignment to the US Ambassador.  For her entire life Kay had a special place in her heart for Paris.

In the 1950s Kay moved to Texas and became an assistant to then US Senator and future President of the US Lyndon B. Johnson.  

Kay married Harold Brown, a Texas businessman, in 1965 and spent the rest of her life in Texas.

Kay Sakaly Brown died on July 24, 2017, in San Antonio, Texas.  In August of that year she would have been 94 years old.

 

 

I knew Kay to be a wise and spirited lady.  She was a woman ahead of her time and a wonderful friend.

 

Certificate American Rosie the Riveter Association.

 

The Yankee Air Museum located in Belleville, Michigan, at the Willow Run Airport tells the story of the WWII Willow Run B-24 Bomber Plant.  The museum’s collections span the history of aviation from WWI to present day.  For more information about the Yankee Air Museum see http://yankeeairmuseum.org/.

The G.I. Bill of Rights: A New Chapter for Those Who Came Home from WWII

The University of Cincinnati 1946 yearbook. Text bottom right reads, “The war with its hard fought battles and lonely hours is over. Those who left McMicken’s halls to help fight those battles and to share those lonely hours have come back—not only to take up where they left off, but to carry out the dreams and plans they made while they were gone.” “McMicken” refers to McMicken Hall on the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, campus and was a nickname for students used in the 1940s.

 

The Dedication in the 1946 yearbook was as follows:  “As McMicken’s sons come back from the far-flung battle-fronts … North Africa … Anzio Beachhead … Normandy … the Bulge … Bataan … Coral Sea … Guadalcanal … New Guinea … Iwo Jima … Guam … they remember their classmates who will never again return to classes, to parties, and to the way of life they knew and loved. We will not and must not forget them and what they have done for us.”

 

Members of the University of Cincinnati Veterans Association in 1946.  Row 1 — Kemeny, J.; Rodgers, J.; Niedenthal, R.; Kelly, R.; Ritter, B.; Armandroff, T.  Row 2 — Hannon, J.; Faunteleroy, T.; Cleary, R.; Gordon, R.; Hill, R.; two unidentified members.  Row 3 — Vance, E.; Williams, H.; Murphy, J.; Williams, T.; Bentley, E.; Feltrup, A.  Robert Kelly was president of the organization. The purpose of the Veterans Association was to promote fellowship among veterans as they entered college life.  

 

Before WWII ended the United States (US) Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 which provided a range of benefits for returning veterans.  The legislation is more commonly known still today as the G.I. Bill of Rights.  

The educational benefits in the G.I. Bill included tuition and living expenses for veterans returning to school.  The University of Cincinnati was one of many universities, colleges, trade schools, and training programs that welcomed WWII veterans wanting to continue their post-war education. G.I. Bill enrollments at the University of Cincinnati began in the fall of 1945.  At its peak there were 8,000 veterans enrolled there. In 1949 two-thirds of the university graduates were WWII veterans.

The G.I. Bill was a defining document in 20th century US history.  The positive effects on the US economy that started with the passing of the G.I. Bill are still evident today.

 

 

The genesis of this story began when I found the 1946 University of Cincinnati yearbook in a used bookstore in San Antonio, Texas.  The tone and sentiment in the yearbook reflects the 1940s US society and the educational institutions that welcomed WWII veterans back from a long war and sought to help them readapt to civilian life.  

Thank you to University of Cincinnati Archivist Kevin Grace for his help in researching this story.

Photographs in the story are courtesy of the University of Cincinnati Archives.

Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery (Part 2): And the Prisoners Of War Who Never Went Home

 

IMG_1554
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas. WWII Prisoner of War burials Section ZA.

 

They may be far from their homeland but have not been forgotten.

 

After WWII when Prisoner of War (POW) camps closed in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, the POWs who died in captivity were reinterred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. One hundred thirty-two Germans, five Italians, three Japanese, and one Austrian are buried there. If the families of the deceased POWs survived the war and could be located, they would have been given the opportunity to repatriate the remains back to their home country.

Story One. Johnny Barrientez, Lead Cemetery Representative at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, has worked there for 38 years. About 25 years ago (early 1990s) he noticed a gentleman in the POW section and walked over to see if he could be of assistance. The gentleman, a German, had travelled from Germany to Texas to visit his brother’s grave. He knew his brother had been a POW and buried in the United States (US), but it had taken him some time to locate his resting place. The German talked about his brother and showed Johnny pictures of himself and his brother in their German uniforms. Another cemetery employee, an American WWII veteran, also walked over, and the two men exchanged thoughts about the war and fighting for their countries. In the end, after seeing the cemetery and the care given to all the graves there, the German man decided he would leave his brother buried in the US.

Story Two. Corporal Hugo Krauss was born in Germany in 1920. Hugo, his mother, and sister joined his father, Heinrich, in New York City, New York, in 1929. Heinrich had immigrated to the US in 1928. In 1939 Hugo travelled back to Germany to visit relatives and was there when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Trapped in Germany, at some point Hugo became a member of the German Army (Wehrmacht). He was captured during the North African Campaign and was sent to a POW camp (Camp Hearne) in Texas. With his fluency in English and German he became an interpreter. As the story is told, some of his fellow German prisoners thought he had become too friendly with the Americans. On the evening of December 17, 1943, he was severely beaten by Nazi POWs and died on December 23, 1943.

 

IMG_1646
While visiting Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery I found three pennies and a dime on the tombstone of Hugo Krauss. According to some military traditions leaving coins can be a symbol of remembrance of the person. A penny signifies that a grave had been visited. A dime signifies that the visitor had served with the deceased in some capacity.

 

IMG_1548
An Italian grave.

 

IMG_1545
A Japanese grave.

 

IMG_1556
Two of the German tombstones depict the person had been awarded the Iron Cross. The legend at the bottom of the tombstone translates to: “He died far (from) Home for Leader, People, and Fatherland.”

 

 

 

Story One as told to me by Johnny Barrientez.  I want to thank him for his help in the research for this story.

Thank you to G. L. Lamborn for assistance in the German translation on the tombstone.

 

In Memory Of … Sara Elizabeth Clarke Anderson

 

Betty2
Sara Elizabeth Clarke Anderson

 

Sara Elizabeth Clarke Anderson, known to family and friends as Betty, was 22 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

Betty was working as a photographer’s model for a modeling agency in Chicago, Illinois, and was featured in advertisements for companies such as Sears, Roebuck, and Company and Folgers Coffee. She posed for the cover of several detective magazines of the day and for one cover she told of being photographed in the Chicago River pretending she was about to drown. She was also involved in radio and television broadcast media in Chicago. Betty worked at radio station WAAF which broadcast from the top floor of the Palmer House. On Mondays at 2 pm she had her own radio show and sang songs. Her beauty and talent opened the door for her early television work at Zenith Experimental Studios. She appeared in various television productions.

During WWII new product development was limited, and rationing affected product availability. When the use of advertising and broadcast media temporarily changed its focus during wartime, Betty moved to Arkansas and was employed at the Arkansas Ordnance Plant (AOP) as an Inspector. Her starting salary was 56 cents an hour.

The AOP was located in Jacksonville, Arkansas. In 1942 the contract to build and operate the plant was awarded to Ford, Bacon, and Davis of New York. The plant was one of the first of its kind in the United States (US). It assembled military munitions fuses, boosters, detonators, and primers. The first assembly line was completed in March of 1942 and approximately 75% of the employees were women.

Betty worked in the Percussion Element Division and made relay and delay fuses for bombs. Components of the fuses included the potentially unstable elements of lead azide and mercury fulminate. She told of assembly line workers taking extra precautions as fuses were moved within the AOP as it was thought even human body heat may cause a fuse to explode.

The AOP shut down production in August of 1945 a few weeks after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. WWII was over.

After WWII, those on the Homefront and veterans returning home from the war started a new chapter in their life. Betty married “the love of her life” E. M. (Tex) Anderson and raised six children. She had a lifelong interest in broadcast media. Betty became a television personality for San Antonio, Texas, public television station KLRN and was elected to the Alamo Public Telecommunications Council. 

Betty passed away on January 16, 2016, at the age of 96. Her love for her family and her contribution to her country, her community, and her work in broadcasting will be remembered.

 

 

Betty’s son, Jeffrey, found this AOP employee award card among her belongings after her death.

IMG_1485
Meritorious Work Award Card and Pin
IMG_1491
A Message from US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on back of Meritorious Work Award Card

 

In  November 2010 I did an oral history interview with Betty for the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. She was representative of the citizens on the Homefront during WWII who wanted to “do their bit” and were themselves sometimes placed in potentially dangerous jobs.

I knew Betty for over 20 years. She was a “classy lady.”  I will miss her friendship. 

Photographs for this story are used with the permission of the Anderson family.

 

WWII United States Navy “Sweetwater” Aircraft Carriers

US Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois, during WWII. USS Wolverine (on left) alongside USS Sable.
US Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois, during WWII.  USS Wolverine (on left) alongside the USS Sable.

 

With possible threats posed by German and Japanese submarines along the United States (US) Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, US Navy Commander Richard L. Whitehead had the idea to train Navy pilots in takeoffs and landings on aircraft carriers in the North American Great Lakes. Ingenuity was necessary to make this happen since there were no US Navy aircraft carriers in the Great Lakes.

Two paddlewheel passenger steamers already operating on the Great Lakes were converted to “sweetwater” aircraft carriers.  “Sweetwater” was a Navy slang word of the time used to describe freshwater versus saltwater ships.  

One of the two ships converted to an aircraft carrier was the Steam Ship (SS) Seeandbee which was commissioned the United States Ship (USS) Wolverine on August 12, 1942. The other ship, originally the SS Greater Buffalo, was renamed and commissioned the USS Sable on May 8, 1943.  Basically, their superstructures were removed, and a flight deck was added.

 

The-Lakers94
SS Greater Buffalo before conversion to USS Sable

 

SS Greater Buffalo conversion
SS Greater Buffalo during conversion

 

USS Sable on Lake Michigan with Grumman Wildcat fighter plane taking off.
USS Sable in Lake Michigan with Grumman Wildcat taking off

 

The homeport for these two “makeshift” aircraft carriers was the Chicago, Illinois, US Navy Pier located on Lake Michigan. Pilots attempting to qualify for aircraft carrier duty flew from US Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois, to train on these ships.

Over 17,000 pilots were trained in takeoffs and landings. One US Navy aviator who trained on the USS Sable was a future President of the United States, George H. W. Bush.

 

After WWII, some planes that were lost during training were brought up from the bottom of Lake Michigan. Recovered fighter planes have included a F4U-1 Corsair and a FM-2 Wildcat.

The North American Great Lakes supported the war effort in various roles. See an earlier post, “Great Lakes Shipbuilding in WWII: And the Tale of FP-344,” on this website. The story link is https://www.ww2history.org/homefront/great-lakes-shipbuilding-in-wwii-and-the-tale-of-fp-344/ .

Thank you to WWII historian George Cressman for his assistance in writing this post.

Great Lakes Shipbuilding in WWII: And the Tale of FP-344

FP-344 In Kewaunee Harbor
FP-344 in Kewaunee Harbor

 

The North American Great Lakes were an area of strategic importance in the United States (US) during WWII. Iron ore needed to be transported to steel making plants along the Great Lakes.  Shipyards on the shores of the Great Lakes built military vessels. Types of ships built were cargo ships, tugboats, submarines, and other vessels.

After ships were launched in the Great Lakes, they made their way down to Chicago (Illinois), transited the Chicago Drainage Canal, traveled through other waterways connecting with the Mississippi River, and sailed south to the Gulf of Mexico where they were placed in service.

The US Coast Guard was assigned duty on the Great Lakes to guard against sabotage and to keep shipping lanes open. Duties included manning lookout stations which monitored shipping lanes, patrolling harbors, and guarding bridges, docks, and ships.  The most powerful “designated” icebreaker of the time, the United States Ship (USS) Mackinaw, kept ice out of shipping channels in winter months.

Kewaunee (Wisconsin) Shipbuilding and Engineering on the shore of Lake Michigan was one of the shipbuilding locations during WWII. The company,  founded in 1941, received a government contract to build military ships. Eighty vessels, cargo ships and tugboats, were built between 1941 and 1946.  The shipyard employed 400 workers. One of the workers was my father, Stanley “Jocko” O’Konski.

It is at Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering that the tale of Freight and Passenger (FP) -344 begins.  FP-344 was a cargo ship, built originally for the US Army,  launched in April 1944, and survived WWII.  By 1967, then a US Navy ship, it was refitted for intelligence gathering and sent to the Pacific.

The US Navy had changed the name of FP-344 to the USS Pueblo.  The ship was captured by North Korea January 23, 1968, and the action is known in history as the Pueblo incident. During the capture of the ship, a sailor, Duane Hodges, was killed.  The remaining 82 crew members were held in North Korea until December 23, 1968, when they were released after US and North Korean negotiations.

The USS Pueblo is still in North Korea. The US Navy has never decommissioned the ship.

 

Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering continues today as Kewaunee Fabrications.

An area of interest, although not addressed in this post, is the history of the US Lighthouse Service.  Founded in 1910, it was merged with the US Coast Guard in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as WWII became imminent.