Three white-haired widows were enjoying lunch at the River Oaks Health Campus, a nursing home in Princeton, Ind., when Betty Reynolds, 87, mentioned that she had been a “Rosie the riveter” during World War II. “So was I,” answered one of her tablemates, Woanetta Osborne, 85. Another, Margaret Evans, 89, chimed in, “So was I.” Thus began an impromptu reunion of three women who helped build P-47 Thunderbolts, the fighter-bomber workhorse for the Army Air Corps, in Evansville defense plants.
They were teenagers in the early ’40s, fresh out of high school when they enrolled in a “riveting school” hurriedly assembled Downtown. After finishing a rush course, Reynolds and Evans got jobs at Hoosier Cardinal on First Avenue near Garvin Park riveting stabilizers for the famous fighter planes, while Osborne, a 1943 graduate of Francisco High School, worked at Republic Aviation, adjacent to the airport, assembling cockpits and fuselages. “We rolled up our sleeves,” she says, just like the iconic Rosie, a fictional woman who adorned numerous posters with the words, “We Can Do It!” These words encouraged women to join the war effort.
Reynolds, Evans, and Osborne weren’t the only ones to help. From September 1942 until the end of the war in 1945, more than 5,000 workers (mostly women) built 6,242 P-47s, fighter aircrafts, in Evansville. Their contribution to the war effort is commemorated on a historical marker at the site of the Republic (former Whirlpool) plant. Many more women built ships on the Ohio River and made bullets at the Chrysler plant. This Memorial Day, their efforts are honored, too. “My kids teased me about being a Rosie,” Evans says, “but they were proud of me.” Discovering other “Rosies” in the nursing home, she added, was “one of the most exciting things in my life.”