Velma Theriot Plaisance was born in 1923 in Theriot, Louisiana. The Great Depression resulted in everyone being poor. The Theriot family did not feel poor because her father worked 200 acres of farm land. He grew crops for their consumption and sold the excess. The family members had to work in the fields, but they had food to eat. There were cows for milk and pigs for meat. The pigs were butchered. The meat was salted and kept in a large jar. When her mother needed salt meat, she had only to go to the jar that contained the meat. Everyone did the same to survive. The family had ten children. Most of the meals were potatoes, white beans, and rice during the Depression. The seven boys helped their father in the fields. They also attended a bit of school. There was no electricity or water at the time. There were none of the luxuries that are taken for granted today. Plaisance did not miss any of that because to her the world ended at the tree line. [Annotator's Note: Plaisance laughs.] She did not know anything existed beyond that point. There was no vehicle for transportation so the family stayed close to home. The family did not participate in rationing or scrap drives. Prior to the war, Plaisance worked at a jewelry store on the main street in Houma. She lived with one or the other of her brothers while working there. She decided to go to welding school so she could go to work in New Orleans and make more money. She made ten dollars a week at the jewelry store. She attended a welding school behind the elementary school and St. Francis Church in Houma. She was taught to weld by the instructor, Richard Freeman. She learned to put two pieces of iron together and make a weld bead. She learned to weld down-hand and overhead. [Annotator's Note: Plaisance gestures to simulate the two positions.] She had six weeks of welding instructions at the school.
Velma Theriot Plaisance went to New Orleans and obtained a job at Delta [Annotator's Note: Plaisance became a welder at Delta Shipbuilding Company] working on Liberty ships. She worked on the forward peak of the boat. She was small so she had to work in confined spaces. She welded beads around big bolts. The work was hard. The women were expected to perform the same work being done by their male counterparts. That meant that they had to pull the welding cables over distances to reach the assigned work location on the ship. Men could not help the women in any way. With the difficulty of the work, she decided to quit Delta and go to work for Higgins [Annotator's Note: Higgins Industries in New Orleans]. Delta was located on the Industrial Canal. That enabled the ships to be launched into the Canal. Delta was a huge operation with big ships. When the ship was ready to sail, the launching ceremony would occur as the ship slid into the bayou. The Liberty ship was used for the war effort. A few of those type ships are still around because they were constructed of iron. It was hot, uncomfortable and hard to weld in the double bottoms. That was why Plaisance decided to leave the company. There were many women working with her. It was a hardship not to work. The shipyard offered a good wage. The likelihood of the nation being in that poor a condition again is not probable. The men were not allowed to be near the women at the worksite. Her leaderman ran the crew of women that Plaisance worked with. He observed their work from his shack and told them what to do but did not come around them. She never met the men in the cranes that operated overhead. The women had their own bathrooms and eating area. They would have a half hour off for dinner. Her supervisor was nice. He used to tell her she better not cross the street by herself because she was an attractive young lady. [Annotator's Note: Plaisance laughs.] She was paid about 70 to 80 dollars a week which was good at the time. Men were paid slightly more than the females. She saw no problems between labor and management. The same was true at Higgins. There were accidents, but Plaisance never saw any. She worked six to eight months at Delta. She worked about two years in total at both Delta and Higgins. She was strong at the time. Her daughter is strong like she was. She was assigned to tight spaces at Delta, but, at Higgins, the work environment was more open. The shops were open. In the winter, it was cold while in the summer, it was hot. She never asked for a transfer while she worked at Delta.
Velma Theriot Plaisance knew Higgins was hiring women so she went there for work [Annotator’s Note: she left Delta Shipbuilding Company and hired on at Higgins Industries as a welder]. She worked on welding the reinforcing rib structure for the sides of the boats. There were a bunch of ribs, each about four inches high. [Annotator’s Note: Plaisance gestures to indicate the size.] They strengthened the side of the vessel. The pay was good for the work. She only had to earn enough to support herself. She lived with her brother and did not have to pay rent. She liked spending a little money in the shops on Canal Street. [Annotator's Note: Plaisance laughs.] She would go with a friend to Pontchartrain Beach [Annotator's Note: an amusement park in New Orleans that operated from 1928 to 1983] on Sunday. She would play tennis at City Park on weekends. She had fun. Higgins was on the Industrial Canal. It was a large plant that was so noisy that her ears rang when she went home. She worked on the Higgins boats [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel or LCVP]. Many of them were completed. After Plaisance did her welding on the ribs, they would be moved to another location where further heavy welding was completed on them. She would weld six inches intermittently on the structure and then welders would come after her and put three times more weld material down. That held the iron together very well. It was reinforced. She did not work with the portion of the boat that had the ramp. That vessel was a real help in winning the war. She worked eight hours a day. Saturday was time and a half. If Sunday was additionally worked, it was double time. Plaisance worked the weekends on occasion. Delta paid a little more than Higgins for their welders, but it was tougher work on bigger ships. Plaisance hurt herself at work when she was taking a short-cut and fell. She cut her leg in the process. That was the only thing that happened to her at work. It is dangerous work because iron is hard if a person falls on it. People had to be careful. It is not advisable to look at the welder next to you because your eyes can be blinded by the flash. Plaisance had to put cucumber slices on her eyes after it happened to her. Wlders have to look at the weld through the welder helmet. Men and women worked together at Higgins. They had separate bathrooms. The men were either too young or too old. There was an old song, "What's good is in the Army, what's left will never harm me." [Annotator's Note: Plaisance laughs.] The men did not bother the women because they were all married. The young men were all in the service. Plaisance worked with women at Higgins. Her supervisor was a man and stayed in his shack. He supervised and the workers were expected to do their work after being told their assignment one time. Mr. Higgins [Annotator's Note: Andrew Jackson Higgins, owner Higgins Industries] was never seen by Plaisance. She did not know who he was. She never saw the brass even though she attended the launchings. There were no problems with minorities. She worked at Higgins for about a year. Afterward, she went back to Houma and began her family. She had eight children. She left Higgins about 66 years prior to the interview. It was hard to leave.
Velma Theriot Plaisance never thought much about her work as a female welder until the Houma Courier interviewed her. The war changed her life and everyone else's. If anyone says otherwise, "they must have been living in a crawfish hole." It changed life in ways that helped the economy. It improved it. A lot of boys were lost, but their lives helped others that survived. The country was in a deep Depression before the war. The economy and jobs were all better after the war. It changed the world, too. The National WWII Museum will allow people to see what the world went through. Plaisance has grandchildren who will want to go to the Museum to see if they can see her there. Plaisance has many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in her family. The world was better after the war just as she was and everyone around her was.
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