FREMONT, Neb. (AP) – She may not have been the model for Rosie the Riveter.
But Rose Fields really was a riveter during World War II.
The Fremont resident was employed at the Martin Bomber Plant in Omaha in the 1940s. She worked on various planes, including the Enola Gay—the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb used in an act of war on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945.
Since photographs weren't allowed during the war years, the 90-year-old woman has few reminders of those days. But she still has memories of a time when she—and many other women like her—did their part to help win a war.
Fields was in her early 20s when she helped build the Glenn L. Martin Co. plant, taking lumber and nails to men doing the construction. Before the war, few women worked outside the home. But most young men, unless they had a medical condition like Fields' future spouse, Lloyd, had gone to war—so women were called upon to work in factories.
“All the women had to help with those jobs,” she said.
More than 1,500 B-26 Marauder medium bombers and 500 B-29 Superfortresses were produced at the plant. In November 1944, more than 40 percent of the plant's nearly 12,000 employees were women, information from the nebraskastudies.org website states.
Fields said she went to school to learn to read blueprints. She began working in the plant after it was built.
“I built the stabilizer section below the wing,” she said.
Fields would take a rivet—a metal bolt or pin with a head—and insert it through the aligned holes in metal meant to be joined together. The other end of the rivet would be flattened out like a paper fastener. Fields said rivets were ice-cold which made them flatten better.
The job wasn't hard.
“It was fun,” she said.
Employees worked rotating shifts. Fields preferred the second shift from 3-11 p.m. That's where she met her future husband who was her foreman. Fields said her spouse was among the first to be drafted, but was classified as a 4F and turned down for military service because of a perforated eardrum due to scarlet fever he'd had as a boy. He was very disappointed about that, but proved to be a good boss at the plant.
“He was a very nice guy,” she said. “He was a good worker. He helped all the girls.”
Not every moment at the plant was pleasant.
“I just about got killed,” she said.
The close call came when she was working on a plane when the stabilizer started to close. She jumped down to safety. An inspector—who was supposed to make sure no one was in the aircraft—caused the near miss and was fired, she said.
Fields also remembers the time a plane crashed into the plant.
“We were in the parking lot,” she said. “We saw the fire ... then we found out a plane had crashed into the roof.”
The plane was a B-25 bomber from the nearby Offutt Air Field. Three crewmen were killed and a fourth was critically injured, but most workers were eating lunch outside the building, the NebraskaStudies website states. The company actually had a very good safety record, with not a single fatal industrial accident in more than 108 million man-hours of labor.
As for working on the Enola Gay, Fields said she was unaware of what role that aircraft eventually would play in history.
“We didn't know it was going to drop the (atomic) bomb, but we knew we were working on one that was going to drop a bomb,” she said.
Fields worked at the plant for two or three years. Her husband got to ride in a B-29 after his suggestion of “Omahawk” was selected as the name for the last plane ever to roll out of the factory.
The two married in 1944 and had a daughter, Linda, a grandson, Rusty, and two great-grandsons, Nick Birdsley, 11, and Mark Fleming, 7.
Fields laughs and suggests interviewing her grandsons, who are excited about her war efforts. Nick even tells people that his great-grandmother won the war. The boys have visited the Strategic Air and Space Museum at Ashland, where they've seen a photograph of a woman who worked at the plant.
Fields doesn't think it's her.
And while she did wear a bandana and blue work uniform—common among women employees of that era—Fields said she personally wasn't the model for the American icon “Rosie the Riveter.”
She does have a little lunch box with a “Rosie” on it and she has a Rosie, bobblehead figurine.
After the war, Fields and many women like her became homemakers. When Linda was in sixth grade, Field started working at Hested's Dime Store in Omaha and then at the Tip Top plant, which made hair products. She was employed there for 26 years before retiring.
She missed working at Martin plant. She missed her fellow workers.
“We made good money there, too, and we spent it,” she said.