Archive for Thursday, August 25, 2005

Reunion rekindles memories for B-25 builders

August 25, 2005

During anniversary celebrations last week marking the Japanese surrender and the end of World War II, several organizations turned their attention to a group of dedicated individuals, who from within Kansas, helped the Allies win the war.

From December 1941 to August 1945, a group of bomber makers produced no fewer than 6,608 B-25 Mitchell bombers inside a factory in the Fairfax district of Wyandotte County.

On Sunday, Aug. 21, government leaders joined members of the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, the Heartland Wing of the Commemorative Air Force and the Wyandotte County Museum in honoring the NAA-K B-25 Bomber Builders of Kansas City, Kan., during the group's 16th reunion.

"Frankly, without the commitment by all these people that worked in the factories here in Fairfax and all around that built these B-25 bombers ... the result of World War II might have been wholly different," said U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., who recognized the group of former bomber builders during ceremonies at the museum.

"I think people in Wyandotte County, Kansas City and the whole metropolitan area can be proud of what went on here during the World War II years."

Moore spoke to the bomber builders, praised them for their service and presented them with a plaque and a transcript of congratulations that he entered into the congressional record.

The B-25 Mitchell, named for Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, was widely used in bombing raids. The planes became famous after 16 of the bombers lifted off from the U.S.S. Hornet on April 18, 1942, for a secret raid over Tokyo. History credits the mission with supplying a huge morale boost to American forces.

However, the planes' performances in battle were not the only significant contribution.

The assembly of the planes themselves, a task proudly completed by men and women working side-by-side, provided a sense of pride to the country and gave launch to the Rosie the Riveter symbol. The iconic symbol, often accompanied by the phrase "we can do it!" features a woman wearing a blue collared shirt and a red bandana in her hair while flexing a healthy bicep muscle.

Among those honored Sunday included several of the women who served as the real-life inspiration for Rosie the Riveter. Wanda Weaver of Lebanon, Mo., who went to work at the Fairfax plant immediately after her 18th birthday on July 19, 1943, flew into the New Century Air Center in Gardner from St. Charles, Mo., Sunday morning aboard one of the B-25 bombers that was built in Fairfax to take part in the reunion.

Before heading to the museum for Sunday's ceremonies, the bomber builders gathered at the airport to rekindle some memories by spending a little time with the B-25 that Weaver flew in -- one of about two dozen planes that still flies. The museum donated money to allow four former bomber builders to go up in the plane for a reunion flight later that morning.

Marshall, Mo., resident Charles Dallas, who worked on the Fairfax assembly line beginning in 1943, was one of the four lucky ones selected for a flight.

"Hearing those engines and seeing it fly across the horizon really gets your blood turning," he said.

Likewise for Weaver, who says she looked back on the contributions the bomber builders made during the war with immeasurable pride.

"Looking at the B-25 -- I just get butterflies," she said. "I would say other than getting married and having children I think the highlight of my life was (helping build) the B-25."

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