Prewar Life

Wing Rivetting



Helmi McHardy was born on a dairy farm in Austin, Michigan in February 1927. She is one of nine children. On the farm, they had cows, horses, chickens, and pigs. They had to milk cows and get eggs from the chicken coops. They did not go on welfare. Her parents said they had to provide for themselves [Annotator's Note: McHardy is referring to the Great Depression, a global economic depression that lasted through the 1930s]. In high school, they would read the newspapers and see what was going on with the war. McHardy saw they were boycotting several things. They knew something was going to happen. She was in school when she heard the war started [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941]. Her brother was in the Air Force. When she graduated, she knew she wanted to go to work to help the war effort. Her brother was in Guam with the Signal Corps. Her brother was quiet about his service. She graduated in 1942. She wanted to do something and her father did not think she should, but ultimately supported her. She went to Detroit [Annotator’s Note: Detroit, Michigan] where her sister was living, and rented a room from her. She went to work for an airplane factory. She worked at Murray Body Corporation next because it was easier to get to. There was an ad in the paper. They had to have training on the different metals the planes were made of. They had security clearance. They could not bring cameras.


Helmi McHardy met several people of different nationalities in Detroit [Annotator’s Note: Detroit, Michigan]. She had never met a colored [Annotator's Note: an ethnic descriptor historically used for Black people in the United States] person before. They started work at eight in the morning and finished at four in the afternoon. They riveted the wings of P-47s [Annotator's Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft]. The wings were on braces. They had to take turns with the riveting guns because they were heavy. There was no air conditioning, so it was always hot. They had to take salt pills so they would drink a lot of water. They were trying to form a union at this time. McHardy made 30 dollars a week. It was mostly girls working, and the supervisors were men who were rejected from service. Everyone got along well with one another. They would put their initials on the inside of the plane and wish the men luck. She received mail from her brother overseas. He was very private about what he was doing. It was a way of life. She had to work. She went to beauty school after she was laid off from Murray Body Corporation. When the war was over, everyone was trying to get to downtown Detroit. They were all celebrating and shouting. She was involved in a race riot when she was coming home from a factory. They were on the streetcar and the conductor told them all to duck. They were going through a colored section of town and the people were trying to push the streetcar over. She ended up ten blocks from where she needed to be because of this incident.


Helmi McHardy thinks it is important for young women to know what she did. It should be the man and woman working together to raise and provide for the family. Women should be home with the children while they are young. People should know there own minds and keep their faith.

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