Presque Isle’s Own “Rosie The Riveter” Takes Part in C-47 Festivities
The World War II era C-47 making a pit stop in Presque Isle on its Trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Europe may have been assembled by my grandmother.
My nana, Thelma "Thel" Bishop grew up in Jones, Oklahoma, a small distance from from Oklahoma City.
Her mother passed away when she was young and her father was old enough to be her grandfather. Thel was in desperate need of money and began working for the Douglas Aircraft Assembly Plant next to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma when she turned 18 in 1944.
Six women and a lead man by the name of Ray Jones made up her crew. Each woman had a different job. Thel had to climb high on a ladder to trim the 'skin' (panels of the plane), go inside to make sure the bulkheads were secure, and use a squeeze gun to rivet the thick metal brace to the skins and to the cabin.
Her first experience with a squeeze gun left her with a piece of a rivet under her right eye, which is still there to this day. At the time no one was around to help her, she picked up a rivet, which she said looked like it was full of liquid metal, she squeezed the gun and it exploded. Rivet shards made it past her safety goggles and went all though her face. She looked as though she had measles. She was brought into the dispensary and had the shards cleaned out except for one last piece under her right eye. A doctor said the shard was too deep and it was better to leave it where it was.
Security was tight at the plant, when her job was finished, her section was sent down to the assembly line for the next crew to do their job. No one knew where the C47s were going Thel said "that was Uncle Sam's job".
Thel made $47 a week. That money went towards rent for her apartment, food, and occasionally to help her father.
Thel's brother, who was stationed at the naval air station in Norman, Oklahoma, introduced her to Leonard Archer, her future husband, who was also stationed in Norman.
When the war was over, President Roosevelt awarded the women with America e-pins for excellence. Shortly after, Thel moved to Maine to live with her husband in 1946.