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/.

In Memory Of … WWII Nun Sister Emeldine

Sister Emeldine in Holland in March 1946.

 

This story is in recognition of Dutch citizens who helped the Allies in WWII.

 

The United States (US) Army 24th Evacuation Hospital landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 12, 1944, six days after D-Day.  The unit followed Allied military operations through France, Belgium, and then to Holland in support of Operation Market Garden in September of 1944.  

From October 28 to December 2, 1944, the 24th Evacuation Hospital occupied the Saint Maarten Kliniek (Clinic) in Nijmegen, Holland.  This was their first hospital set up in an already existing building.  Prior to that the unit worked in a tent hospital setting.  The Kliniek had been used by the Germans when they occupied Holland.  

The Saint Maarten Kliniek is where this story takes place.

 

Top photograph of the front of Saint Maarten Kliniek in 1944.  Bottom photograph shows the back of the building damaged after nearby military operations.

 

In a 2011 oral history interview 24th Evacuation Hospital nurse Lieutenant Josephine Pescatore Reaves tells of meeting Sister Emeldine and other nuns who cared for patients at the Kliniek.  

 

Photograph of Sister Emeldine and Lieutenant Josephine Pescatore Reaves taken at the back of the war damaged Saint Maarten Kliniek in 1944. 

 

Josephine shared a story in her interview about a US Army 101st Airborne Division soldier who was dying.  His name was John Kublinski.  She, Sister Emeldine, and a Catholic priest endangered their lives to grant John’s last request.

 

    

 

If the families of those lost in WWII had known that their loved ones did not die alone but were in the hands of caring people, it may have offered them some solace in their grief.

John Kublinski and Nick Patino were buried in US Temporary Cemetery 4655 at Molenhoek, Holland.  Their bodies were repatriated to the US after WWII ended.

 

Unfortunately I could not find further information about Sister Emeldine.  She did survive WWII as is attested by the 1946 photograph of her above.

Efforts have been unsuccessful in trying to locate the three sons of John Kublinski to share this remembrance of their father.

On November 19, 1944, a German shell hit the hospital.  US Army physician Guy A. Myers and nurse First Lieutenant Katherine L. Foster were seriously wounded.

The photographs in this story are used with the permission of Josephine Pescatore Reaves.  The oral history video is used with the permission of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. 

A valuable website with extensive information on many of the US medical support units in WWII is WW2 US Medical Research Centre

There are three other stories on this website about the US Army 24th Evacuation Hospital.  The stories are WWII Camp Shanks, New York: And a Visit by Archbishop Spellman,  An Afternoon in Paris after Liberation: And a Letter from a Parisian Lady,  and The Medics: Those Who Took Care of the Wounded and the Dying in WWII .

 

In Memory Of … Don Jones WWII US 2nd Marine Division

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Private First Class James Donald Jones, US Marine Corps.

 

On a 2005 WWII in the Pacific cruise I met many WWII veterans who shared their personal experiences in conversations, lectures, and veteran round table discussions.  The trip began in Honolulu, Hawaii, made stops at Midway Island, Majuro, Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Nagasaki, and ended in China.  This post is about one of the WWII veterans I met on that trip.

 

James Donald “Don” Jones was born in Eastland County, Texas, on November 14, 1923.  He enlisted in the United States (US) Marine Corps days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.  By the end of WWII Don was a veteran of Tulagi (August 7- 9, 1942), Guadalcanal (August 7, 1942 – February 9, 1943), Tarawa (November 20-23, 1943), Saipan (June 15 – July 9, 1944), and Tinian (July 24 – August 1, 1944).

These are some of the stories Don shared on the trip.  

 

Tulagi, Guadalcanal, and Savo Island, Solomon Islands

Background.  On August 9, 1942, in the aftermath of the catastrophic defeat of the US Navy at the Battle of Savo Island, US transport ships carrying men, rations, ammunition, gasoline, and other supplies left for safer waters to protect US carriers.  Supply lines to US troops on Guadalcanal were cut off for months as a result.

After first landing on the island of Tulagi, Don and the 2nd Marine Division were sent to Guadalcanal to defend a ridge perimeter around the airfield. 

Don spoke of the hardships on Guadalcanal due to malaria, dysentery, tropical diseases, jungle rot, and malnutrition.  The Marines nicknamed the island “Survival Island.”  Before US supplies began arriving again, they were surviving on rice stolen from the Japanese and native island food sources such as heart of palm.  Don said he never ate heart of palm again after that.  

Don spent much of his time on Guadalcanal in a foxhole on Bloody Ridge (also known as Edson’s Ridge) overlooking the airfield (Henderson Field).  The extreme heat and humidity resulted in leather boots rotting off the feet of some Marines.  While in his foxhole Don made a promise to himself;  if he lived through the war, one day he would return to Guadalcanal and smoke a cigar on Bloody Ridge.

 

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June 9, 2005, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Don smokes a cigar on Bloody Ridge.

 

Saipan, Mariana Islands 

 

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June 16, 2005, Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Don and his daughter, Nancy, at the American Memorial Park. During the stop in Saipan there was a program at the Memorial honoring WWII veterans. Don spoke at the ceremony and afterwards was interviewed by a Japanese news crew.

 

On June 15, 1944, Don landed with the 2nd Marine Division on “Green Beach” along the southwest coast of Saipan.

When moving up the west side of the island, while crawling on his stomach across a field, Don found a watermelon.  He ate the entire thing while bullets flew overhead.  His thought at the time was, “Nothing ever tasted so good.”

Continuing north Don saw the overwhelming aftermath of the largest Japanese Banzai charge (suicide attack) of WWII on July 7, 1944.  He said there were thousands of dead Japanese soldiers.  The flies there were so thick that a plane had to spray DDT over the area.  

On the northern tip of Saipan at Marpi Point Don witnessed civilian men, women, and children commit suicide jumping off the cliffs.

 

Tinian, Mariana Islands

The island of Tinian is visible from Saipan.  Don landed there in July 1944.

When Don landed on Tinian, he had three 2nd Marine Division replacements with him.  He told them, “Don’t get out of the sugar cane. Cross the field in the cane.”  Two of the replacements were killed by Japanese machine gun fire when they stepped out on a road.  At a Marine reunion years later the third replacement told Don, “For days I only followed you.  You knew what to do.”

Don was wounded on Tinian and evacuated to a battalion aid station.  He said the flies were so bad there that he asked to return to the front lines.

By the time Don left Saipan and Tinian, he had seen civilians jump to their deaths on both the northern cliffs of Saipan and the southern cliffs of Tinian.

 

Back in the US 

After three years in the Pacific Theater, Don was stationed in Washington, DC, standing guard outside the office of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations in WWII.  Don was in Washington, DC, when the war ended. 

Nancy, Don’s daughter, wrote, “James D. Jones was discharged in October 1945.  On his way to the bus stop he nearly cried.  He had only been a Marine.  For the last four years it wasn’t easy, but everything you needed, they provided.  He had a wife and baby waiting in Texas.  What would he do now?”  It was a shared sentiment felt by many who survived the war and were returning to the challenge of reentering civilian life.

 

A Last Tour in the Pacific

Don Jones went on a second WWII in the Pacific cruise in 2008 with his son-in-law, Joe.  Nancy wrote, “For my dad it is more a matter of saying goodbye this time to memories he has lived with for 60 years.  Last time it was an emotional reliving of his war experiences.”

 

James Donald “Don” Jones died in 2008 and is buried in his hometown of Eastland, Texas.  He was a proud Marine his entire life.

Semper Fi, Marine.

 

 

“Midway Atoll:  WWII and Present Day,” a story about the first stop on a 2005 WWII in the Pacific cruise, was posted on this website in November 2015.  Story link is https://www.ww2history.org/war-in-the-pacific/midway-atoll-wwii-and-present-day/ .

 

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Our Valor Tours group at dinner table 32 on the Pacific Princess cruise ship. We were strangers when we started the trip in Honolulu, Hawaii, and family when we disembarked in China. 

 

In Memory Of … Sara Elizabeth Clarke Anderson

 

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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.

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Meritorious Work Award Card and Pin
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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.

 

In Memory Of … Flavio Terenzoni

Flavio Terenzoni with Maria Cecchini
Flavio Terenzoni with Maria Cecchini

 

On August 17, 1944, Italian partisans killed 16 German soldiers who had been in the area of San Terenzo, Italy, requisitioning food from the local populace. The Germans ordered civilian reprisals which were carried out by the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division  between August 17 and August 19, 1944.  One hundred and fifty-nine Italian civilian men, women, and children from the San Terenzo Monti, Bardine, and Valla area were killed.*

In 2012 I went on a tour, “World War II in the Mediterranean: The Italian and French Campaigns,” which was sponsored by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.  One of the locales we visited was the San Terenzo area of Tuscany.

At the Historical Museum Massacre of San Terenzo and Bardine, we saw pictures on the wall of many of the victims.  I was drawn to the picture of a baby named Flavio Terenzoni.  His happy, laughing face, before tragedy struck, touched my heart.  Flavio died on August 19, 1944, as did Maria Cecchini, the young woman in the picture with him.  Flavio would have been two years old on August 28, 1944.

While we were at the museum, Italians from the local area joined us and shared the stories of what happened.  They worried that the world would forget about the tragedy that occurred there.

For this story, I chose Flavio Terenzoni to represent all the lives and innocence lost as seen in the “pictures on the wall.”

To the people of San Terenzo, your story has not been forgotten.

 

Another WWII story from this part of Italy:  

The United States (US) 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed mostly of second generation Japanese Americans, fought along the Gothic Line in the area of Colle Musatello, a ridge near San Terenzo.  One of the officers in that unit was Lieutenant Daniel Inouye. He was seriously wounded in the battle for the ridge and lost his right arm.  For his extraordinary heroism on April 21, 1945, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).

 In 1963 Daniel Inouye became a US Senator from Hawaii. 

Senator Inouye’s award of the DSC was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

 

*SS Major Walter Reder of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division was tried for war crimes in an Italian military court in Bologna, Italy, and sentenced to life in prison in 1951. He was released in 1985.

The number of Germans and Italian civilians killed may vary depending on different  accounts of the incident.