Wednesday, March 28, 2012

United We Stand?

It's been a heck of a rough week.

First I learn that my "friend" and co-worker Jane Sullivan was once a member of an organization called the Silver Legion, whose founder admired Hitler. Jane claims that she only joined out of love for a handsome young actor who happened to be one of Hollywood's "Silvershirts," but can I believe her? Here's a woman who's not only hiding the fact that she's working in a bomber factory from her family but enlisting me to help cover for her!

And there's the small matter of the FBI. Without telling me, Jane gave the secretaries in Boeing's employment office MY phone number, apparently knowing full well the feds might be looking for her.

I stopped by the library the other day after work and asked if they had any information about the Silver Legion. The librarian wrinkled her nose at the name, but she brought me a few newspaper articles from California. It seems that the organization's founder, William Dudley Pelley, is wanted for high treason and sedition for claiming in his magazine "Roll Call" that the losses from the Pearl Harbor attacks were far greater than the figures released by the government. The Silver Legion was disbanded right after the attacks, and Pelley is in hiding.

One of Pelley's brochures, written in 1937, contains the following statement:

"Suddenly in Italy appeared Mussolini, and he put a halt to Communism. He introduced one-man Fascism because Yiddisher "democracy" doesn't serve in such a turmoil. Out of Mussolini's success grew Hitler's.
Hitler knew the crowd that had wrecked the Fatherland, and he started a one-man war in Germany to best it -- and drive it forth.
We know that he did drive it forth. He even went so far as to clap the sacrosanct person of one omnipotent Rothschild in a common hoosegow.
Over here into the United States swarmed the mob of mischief-making scoundrels, to use the Democratic Party, the American press and radio, the American movie screen, to work up a wild hysteria to have Hitler kicked to limbo."

It goes on and on for several densely-packed pages, about how a cabal of Jews started World War I and how the Fascists were right to try to rid the world of them. I read as much as I could stomach, then gave the whole mess back to the librarian.

On top of all of this appalling Silver Legion business, I've had to deal with a tense situation at work. I managed to put Frank Lomax in his place after enduring all of his ridiculous horseplay, but it made for a strained atmosphere. Between Frank not speaking to me and me not speaking to Jane we were the quietest team at Boeing!

The city's in an uproar because the Japanese on nearby Bainbridge Island have just been ordered to evacuate to inland communities being built to house them for the duration. Most are glad to see them go, but it tugs at my heart to see the pictures in the paper of women and children hastily packing up their belongings. Every day my bus passes Japanese businesses hurriedly put up for sale. There's no word yet as to whether Seattle's Japanese will be ordered away, but everyone suspects they will be so most of the Japanese here are preparing as best they can for what seems inevitable.

And all of this turmoil is right in my own backyard. There's an entire world at war beyond the horizon.

Betty and Susan are pestering me to put aside my grudge against Jane. Easy for them to say, they don't know the reason. But I am beginning to wonder if I should talk to her after all. I've got little enough that I can rely on, and even a friend as difficult as Jane may still be worth keeping. But can I trust her?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Plant Life

I continue to be amazed at life in a bomber factory. Turns out there's a lot more to it than just working hard every day and pouring our hearts and souls into ending the war. Some of the fellows who've been here a long time have in the past devoted their attention to other things, like figuring out how to cheat the time clock or get paid overtime for less than a week's work.

The war's put a crimp on a lot of those shenanigans, but there's still no denying that there's more going on here than just building B-17s. Maybe it's because people spend so much of their lives in the plant. Everyone's personalities, problems and dreams are here for all to see, like it or not.

And now we're in the public eye as well. The local papers have taken notice of the sudden surge of defense workers and how Seattle's changing because of it.

An article in today's Seattle Daily Times paints a perfect picture of life at Boeing:

"Guards Snift for Snifters; Coffee (Oft Cold) Permitted

Seattle is undergoing the greatest lunch box era in history, but, because of precautions against sabotage in defense plants, many workers are complaining that it is also a 'cold coffee' era. Guards at vital plants inspect the lunch kits as the men report for work. One bit of inspection is the opening of thermos bottles. So many thermos bottles are opened that the dull 'ploop...ploop...ploop' of popping corks sounds like a distant but steady artillery fire. But all this makes the coffee cold, the workers say.

The guards are prompt as they can be in recorking the thermos bottles aster they have sniffed for nitroglycerin, beer and whiskey.

There's no sly nipping of beer or stronger stuff in defense plants any more. Beer used to be smuggled (before December 7) in thermos bottles, to wash down cheese sandwiches, and sometimes there was a drap of stronger liquor.

But no more of that.

Any worker found attempting to pilot a noggin into a plant loses his job.
But, getting back to lunch kits - curbstone statisticians could do a pretty neat job of measuring the rising tide of Seattle's surging war industries simply by counting the number of lunch kits, nearly all of them a gleaming black, carried past almost any given corner early in the morning, or late in the evening.

A few generations ago, the cry of 'A full dinner pail' was a telling political slogan. Today, the rounded tin bucket grandfather carried has its modern successor in the neat lunch kit with its sturdy one-pint thermos bottle snugly inside its rounded hood.
Sales of lunch kits in Seattle are soaring at levels four or five times greater than those of a short year ago. Harassed buyers for hardware and drug stores, which make most lunch-kit sales, get a despairing look in their eyes when queried about the demand.

'We simply can't get enough of them from the manufacturers,' one retail executive admitted. 'They are one of the hardest items to try to keep in stock these days that I can think of.'

And sales agents for manufacturers look upon 1942 Seattle as the brightest lunch-kit market on the Pacific Coast, although their principal sales problem is soothing anxious buyers by assuring them that factories are doing their best to meet the rush of orders.

Like the buyers of 'flivvers' of hallowed memory, lunch-kit buyers can have 'any' color as long as it's black because manufacturers have felt the shortage of paint. But only a few months ago, lunch kits were available in brown, blue or green.

Lack of adequate restaurant facilities to serve swiftly built industries is a prime factor for lunch-kit popularity. Another is the rising cost of meals.

Feminine workers, in increasing number, also are carrying their lunches. Many, however, have been buying the smaller, flat lunch-kits, with half-pint bottles, which formerly were sold almost entirely to school children.

'It used to be that we sold these school kits only in the fall, but now we have a steady, year-round trade in them,' said another store official.
Many busy executives, too, are 'discovering' lunch kits, another retail man commented. He pointed out that half-hour lunch periods are increasingly in vogue these days."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


This week's seen a bounty of letters from the men. Our co-worker Mary has heard from her boyfriend Tom, who's seen action aboard his aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. A Japanese plane was shot down before his very eyes in the Gilbert Islands!

Meanwhile, Betty's heard from her husband Joe. He's arrived in Alaska to start building the new highway, which is supposed to link the territory to the 48 states by land for the first time. Joe says it's awful cold and the conditions are pretty primitive, but he's anxious to get started.

But I think Bob's situation is the most exotic. He's stationed for the time being in Brisbane, Australia of all places. Apparently American troops are gathering there to prepare to fight the Japanese in the South Pacific. The enemy's fearfully close to Australia, and the papers are full of dire predictions of an invasion. Bob's a pilot without a plane at the moment, but once his beloved P-38s arrive he'll be off to combat.

I'm thrilled of course to hear from Bob, but each letter reminds me painfully of the immense distance between us and the danger he's in, both things I'd rather not think about. I'm trying to concentrate as hard as I can on my factory work, though the men at the plant aren't making it easy.

We heard today that a couple of the fellows on the night shift were shot by one of the sentries when they were carpooling up to the plant. They'll be OK, and I imagine they'll never again forget about the guards posted around the completed B-17s.

Betty remarked to me that she wouldn't have minded if one of the wounded workers had been our chief tormentor Frank Lomax. I have a secret plan to deal with him, which I intend to put into action next week. If things go as I hope they will, Frank won't underestimate the ladies again!

Thursday, March 8, 2012


First week in the bomber factory. Even though I wasn't sure what to expect, somehow it still wasn't what I expected. I've never worked before, let alone with men, particularly machinists who aren't used to having women around and are none too happy about it.

Naively I anticipated that the men would be glad we were helping them with the war effort. But I suppose they miss their buddies who have enlisted, or wish that they could have signed up as well. I haven't heard yet why these fellows have remained at Boeing, but I imagine some are too old to join up or have physical problems of one sort or another keeping them out of the service.

Whatever the reason, they seem determined to take it out on us women. I don't mind the sour faces worn by my new colleagues so much as the outright hostile behavior. Our foreman Tom acts like we're about as welcome as ants at a picnic, but he's been fair so far about assigning and overseeing our work. As long as we're meeting his standards for speed and accuracy he pretty much leaves us alone.

I can't say the same for the other men on our shift. They're supposed to work with us but seem far more interested in playing pranks. A riveter named Frank Lomax has been really getting my goat; pinching my bottom and hiding Susan's tools. But Susan seems to have lost a little of her ire since handsome Grant Wilson came to her rescue and got her bucking bar back from Frank. She's been blushing like a schoolgirl every time Grant walks by!

I'm not so easily mollified. This war took my husband from me and sent him thousands of miles away to great danger. I've given up my normal life to spend six days a week in this huge, noisy building full of weird-looking airplane parts, working until I'm so tired I fall asleep on the bus home, just to help bring this thing to an end. I'll be damned (I can't believe I just wrote that word - factory life must already be rubbing off on me!) if I'm going to let a bunch of galoots in overalls get in my way!