Welding at Tinker Field

Douglas Aircraft Welder


[Annotator's Note: A woman off camera interjects throughout this segment.] Mary Julia Tarnow was born in Mineral Springs, Arkansas in December 1923. Her family moved to Oklahoma around 1928 because her father lost their farm due to finances. They drove a model-T [Annotator's Note: Ford Model-T automobile] with a trailer hitched on the back. It took four days to get to Oklahoma. Her father established a farm, a cotton gin, and a sawmill. Life growing up to be difficult, but she and her siblings made it through. She graduated from high school in 1941. She was aware of the hostilities in Europe and the rise of Hitler [Annotator's Note: German dictator Adolf Hitler]. Tarnow attended OU [Annotator's Note: The University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma] for one year after she graduated from high school. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941], all the men she knew wanted to enlist but the professors tried to persuade them to finish the school year first. Tarnow decided she wanted to go to work and not pursue another year at school. She was persuaded to take a steel wielding course offered by the government that last three months. She then moved to Oklahoma City [Annotator's Note: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] and applied for a job at Douglas Aircraft [Annotator's Note: The Midwest City Douglas Aircraft Company Plant] at Tinker Field [Annotator's Note: now Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] as a welder. The company hired her and gave her some more training for six weeks. She was assigned to work with sheet metal. Because she only had training in steel welding, she had to receive more training on how to work with aluminum. The factory she worked in built the C-47s [[Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft]. She worked at the company for two years. She worked six days a week and was busy all the time. She mostly welded air conditioning and heating parts for the planes. She often worked in a hot environment, but she always wore proper clothing and safety equipment. She worked with asbestos and can remember blue smoke coming up in her face, but she was never concerned about it because it was her job. While she was working at the factory and living in the city, she met her husband who was serving in the Army Air Corps. They married and then her husband was deployed overseas in April 1944. She became close to some of the other wives whose husbands were deployed as well. She continued to work for Douglas Aircraft and left two months before the war concluded. She was given the swing shift and her parents became uncomfortable with her traveling home late at night unescorted.


[Annotator's Note: A woman off camera interjects throughout this segment.] Mary Julia Tarnow never felt any friction from her male counterparts [Annotator's Note: while working for The Midwest City Douglas Aircraft Company Plant at Tinker Field in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma during World War 2]. Most of the young men were going into service and most of the men that worked at the plant were in their 40s and 50s, so there were a lot of women working at the plant. She does not remember how much she was paid at the plant, but it was good compared to other jobs in town. On Sundays, she went to restaurants or went shopping for clothes. She wore a jumpsuit and steel-toed oxfords to work. The working conditions were good. She joked with others, took lunch breaks, but mostly worked through her shift. She would get a ride to and from work. When the war concluded and her husband came home, he had to find a job because he did not have one before going into service. Most places were hiring veterans, and it became difficult to find employment. She did not care because she was happy her husband was home. It took them a few years to buy their first house and their first car. During the war, everything was rationed including shoes and sugar. It was hard to get a telephone too, but eventually she was able to purchase one because she worked in a defense job. Tarnow is proud of the work she did. She remained friends with some of the women after she left Douglas Aircraft. The plant did not have any programs for women that had children and they had to find their own arrangements. Her husband and Tarnow corresponded daily through letters while he was deployed overseas. She also corresponded with her brother while he served in France and Germany as a medical professional. When the war was over, her husband found a job working with the Department of Agriculture [Annotator's Note: United States Department of Agriculture] and she found a job in the personnel office at Tinker Field. They bought their first house on the G.I. Bill [Annotator's Note: the G.I. Bill, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was enacted by the United States Congress to aid United States veterans of World War 2 in transitioning back to civilian life and included financial aid for education, mortgages, business starts and unemployment]. While she worked at Douglas Aircraft, she did not have many holidays off and was only able to get off every once in a while, to go home and visit her parents. She got all her news about the Pacific from the radio, news reels, and her husband's letters. Her husband returned to the United States in January 1946. She enjoyed that time of her life meeting new people and experiencing new city life. Tarnow grew up experiencing the Dust Bowl [Annotator's Note: period of severe dust storms in American prairies, 1934 to 1940] which was a horrible time. She had to cover her face all the time because the dust was so bad. Her family's crops did not grow, the wells dried up, the livestock died, and life was difficult. She learned to work and worked well at a young age. Her work ethics helped her succeed at Douglas Aircraft. [Annotator's Note: Video blacks out from 0:36:42.000 to 0:37.39.755.]

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