OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — Thrust into the depths of war Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. employed all its resources to meet the enemy in battle quickly but one resource began to run out — manpower.
At a time when the U.S. was still trying to climb out of the Great Depression, war began to empty houses of fathers, sons and brothers to meet an enemy that was attempting to take over the world.
At the beginning of the war, the U.S. was faced with shortages in food, gas, clothing and other various items vitally needed by both those on the front lines and back on the home front. Rationing and the recycling drives for scrap metal became everyday norms for Americans of that generation. There were a lot of things that changed during that time; one change that grew not only out of necessity but also from a sense of duty and patriotism was “Rosie.”
The illustration of the female worker with the bandanna around her head and the words “We Can Do It” became one of the U.S. government’s most successful recruiting tools and the illustration can still be seen today.
One of the locations where Rosies came to work was the Glenn L. Martin-Nebraska Bomber Plant located on what is today called Offutt Air Force Base.
“During the peak years of production, 405 of the workers at the plant were women,” said John McQueney, the 55th Wing historian.
“In the summer of 1942, there was a piece in the paper that said there was going to be a representative from the West Coast in the aircraft industry and he was going to be interviewing people who would be interested in doing defense work,” said Kathryn Shudak of Council Bluffs, Iowa. “I went for an interview and the gentleman said they were going to be having a course at Tech High in Omaha, Nebraska, that would teach how to read blueprints, rivet and stuff like that. You didn’t have to pay for the course, but you didn’t get paid for the course either.”
Shudak said she was inspired and wanted to help out in any way she could but there were those who didn’t share her enthusiasm.
“I wanted to do it but my father said, ‘Absolutely not. It is not a good job for a young woman of 19 to 20 years of age.’ Plus he said if you get a job you would probably be working with men, and he didn’t like the idea of that either,” Shudak said.
Even though she faced opposition from her father, Shudak felt compelled to help out in any way she could.
“I took the course and put in an application at the Martin Bomber plant,” Shudak said. “I got hired for 60 cents an hour and I was going to work from 12 to 8 a.m. We were coming out of the Depression, there (was) still high unemployment and there weren’t many jobs, and 60 cents an hour was almost unheard of. My father was an engineer for the railroad and he was only making 25 cents per hour.”
In this new frontier for women, Shudak was a little overwhelmed in the beginning.
“When I went to work there, I was absolutely scared to death,” she said. “It was a huge place and I didn’t know what I was going to do for sure. There were a lot of people … having to find a way back and forth to work, I was sleeping days and working nights.”
Knowing what was at stake, Shudak and her fellow Rosies were careful about their work.
“We were all very conscientious about our job,” Shudak said. “Anything we did was inspected to make sure it was OK.”
Working at the Martin-Nebraska Bomber Plant, Shudak and her co-workers managed to help build a total of 1,585 B-26 Marauders and 531 B-29 Superfortresses before the end of World War II.
“The Martin Bomber Plant ran three shifts, 22.5 hours a day, six days a week, and the Rosies and other workers at the plant set records for production, including 33 consecutive months of ‘at’ or ‘beyond’ production goals,” McQueney said.
Shudak worked at the plant from 1942 until Victory over Japan Day in 1945.
“It was just a different phase of my life,” Shudak said.
Women served in many different roles during WWII and each had their reason but for Shudak and her friends, the reason was clear.
“Guys went into the service and you wanted them to come home,” she said. “Everyone had somebody in the service and you wanted them to come home.”
As the men of that generation fought to keep their families safe, the women displayed resiliency when a lack of resources and manpower could have had adverse effects in the war.
“The American women did a tremendous effort for the war,” Shudak said. “Everybody just wanted to do their part.”