NEW YORK – Anne King was 19 and earning $12 a week in a dime store when she was recruited in 1942 to learn how to make airplane parts. She worked at Republic Aviation on Long Island as a mechanic and riveter on P-47 Thunderbolt fighters and other U.S. aircraft.
King and five other women who performed wartime factory work were to gather Friday at what is now Republic Airport in Farmingdale and take rides in a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-24 Liberator "as a tribute to their war efforts," said Hope Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the American Airpower Museum on the grounds of the airport.
Exhibitions by vintage aircraft are holiday fixtures at the museum, but this is the first time any of the women, the "Rosie the Riveters" who helped build World War II aircraft, have had a chance to fly in them, Kaplan said.
King, who turns 85 on Saturday, said she was "not the least bit nervous" about her first flight in a vintage bomber.
"I'd like to ride in the B-24," said Josephine Rachiele, 82, was also scheduled to take a tribute flight. "My friend Bernadette's father was a waist gunner on a B-24, and I would like to tell her what it's like."
Rachiele recalled that when she first went to work as a riveter at Republic in 1943, "I didn't know a rivet from a nail, and it was so noisy that I was really frightened. The rivet guns shooting rivets and the drill press stomping on metal — it was pandemonium."
At war's end, she said, the women were given the choice of staying or leaving so that returning servicemen could have the jobs. Rachiele quit, but returned in later years to Republic.
Georgette Feller, 86, said she was "already one step ahead" when she joined Republic Aviation as a riveter. "My father was an excellent mechanic, and I already knew how to use a rivet gun, and I could tell aluminum from steel," she said.
"It was a great job, but I had trouble with the man who was my first partner — he said he wasn't happy working with a dizzy broad."
Feller knows Friday's flight is a great opportunity. "I'm at the end of my days, and I want every good experience I can have," she said. "That sounds like a good one for me."
While the actual number of women employed in defense plants is uncertain, historians say the war brought about 6 million women into the work force for the first time. They almost always made less money than men working at the same tasks.
In 1943, a promotional film using an actual riveter named Rose at Michigan's Willow Run bomber plant as its model popularized the "Rosie the Riveter" image. A song furthered the cause, as did a Saturday Evening Post cover by illustrator Norman Rockwell, depicting Rosie with her feet resting on a copy of Adolf Hitler's book, "Mein Kampf."
According to the Collings Foundation, a nonprofit "living history" organization based in Stow, Massachusetts, which owns the two bombers, the B-24 Liberator is the only one of 18,000 built during the war that remains in flyable condition today. Its B-17 Flying Fortress, which flew 100 missions over Europe including 18 raids on Berlin and was rescued from a salvage yard, is one of 14 still flying among 12,000 built. About a third were lost in combat.