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.
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.