Willow Run Memories May–October 2015

Recent submissions to Willow Run Memories Project tell the stories of a 1950s bathing beauty at Willow Run Village, a World War One veteran who was a Willow Run Bomber Plant worker during WWII, a classroom of kids who bought a B-17 bomber to help the war effort, and romance blossoming on the assembly line for Rosie the Riveter.

Click here to see ALL submissions to the Willow Run Memories Project to date (the Project is ongoing through 2016 and beyond.) Learn how to submit your own personal and family Willow Run Memories here. Stories and recollection with or without photos are welcomed. Please note, we are not looking for donation of actual photos necessarily, just a digital image is fine.

Photos submitted this recently to the Willow Run Memories Project: (Click any image to view larger and in more detail. Hit your browser’s “Back” arrow to return here.)

And scroll down for the stories…

Many local residents have fond memories of growing up in Willow Run Village in the 50s, 60, 70s and 80s. The Village was built during WWII to house the influx of war workers, and later converted to private family housing. Many of the people who grew up in the Village during the “baby boom” years were the children of workers who came to the area during or shortly after WWII to work at Willow Run and other area factories. Many of these families remain in the area today. Here’s a typical Willow Run Village family story…

My mother Lina in the Old Village, 1950s [photo.] She migrated north with her family from the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. escaping the only real form of employment… the dangerous coal mines… to seek a better way of life in the auto factories. In the background is her sister and brother in-law. The two kids are Lina’s niece and nephew Doug and Geneva.
– Tim C. via Facebook

Thousands of women workers, aka “Rosie the Riveters,” came to the area during World War II to work at the Willow Run Bomber Plant building B-24 Liberator bombers, and some built a lot more than just bombers while working on the line… 

My mother Mary Lou was a Rosie the riveter at the Bomber Plant in Ypsi during WWII. She had to take her rivet gun into the tail of the plane and use it in a small space. She was chosen due to her petite size. One day her rivet gun broke. She went down the line and borrowed a rivet gun from my father Wilbur. At the end of the shift, she returned it. My father said, “Now you owe me a date”. The plant closed 5-31-1945. They got married 6-23-1945. They were married until the day he died 3-13-1975.
– Jerry C. via Facebook

My grandmother moved down from Mayville to work there in ’42. Brought her 2 daughters. As a single mother she worked the plant and also for the City of Detroit printing department.
– Ken C. via facebook

My grandmother, Dorothy LaFond, worked @WillowRunBomber during WWII. She also hitchhiked there from Walled Lake every day for 6 mo until she saved up enough $$$ to buy a car.
– Kay L. via Twitter

Male workers were critical to the war effort as well. They included men who were too old to serve, had already served, were designated “4-F” due to medical reasons, or were in their late teens and were working while waiting to be called into the service. Here are the stories of some older family men who contributed to the war effort at Willow Run…

He might not have been a woman but my great-grandpa worked with them at the Ypsi Bomber plant, traveling from Northern Lower Michigan by train to work with the ladies. My grandpa, his son, ran the farm in his absence. My great grandfather, John L. Sheneman, travelled by train from Topinabee and worked at the plant while my grandfather ran the farm. John L Sheneman was a World War One veteran. I’m sending an interview with his son about his dad working at the Ypsi Bomber Plant. [From recorded interview: WWI veteran John L. Sheneman lived in one of the dormitories in Willow Run Village for male workers. He traveled by train back to his home in Topinabee, on the weekends when he wasn’t working. Says his son, “After working all week and all night, he was pooped!”]
– Brenda O. via email

And here’s a touching story of the many ways an immigrant family from Poland answered the call when their adopted country went to war…

My paternal grandfather, Antony G., worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant. I found his draft registration online, which is where I learned about his having worked at the plant. My dad (now deceased) had never mentioned that his dad had worked there. Unfortunately, my grandfather died at the young age of 54, three years before I was born. I wish I had had the opportunity to get to know him, because, by all reports, he was an especially likable man, kind and generous. My grandfather immigrated to the United States from Poland and first settled in Youngstown, Ohio. After my dad was born, his family moved to Detroit, Michigan. My mom’s family also immigrated from Poland and settled in Detroit. My mom and dad met in Detroit in 1941 and married in 1942, when my dad was just 21-and-a-half, and my mom had just turned 16 a few weeks earlier. I have also attached a picture of my dad’s family, taken approximately 1928/early 1930s; my grandfather is the middle-aged-looking man just right of center, and my dad is the smallest boy on the far left. Also, my dad served in World War II as a heavy machine gunner. My mom was pregnant with, and delivered, their first child at the age of 17 while Dad was overseas.
– Marilyn L. via email

And another supporter reminds of of the importance of many other factories nationwide that made critical contributions to America’s great Arsenal of Democracy during WWII. He outlines how an entire industrial city, Bridgeport, CN, converted entirely to war production…

Michigan was a great Arsenal of Democracy. One of your sister Arsenals of Democracy as singled out by FDR was Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bridgeport was so invaluable, that post war study of captured Nazi secret files indicated that Hitler had designated Bridgeport on his top ten U.S.A. targets for Nazi espionage and subterfuge. During the 1940’s, this arsenal had 500 war defense factories operating 24/7. Most noteworthy, General Electric Corporation headquarters was located here until the early 1970’s when it moved to Fairfield, Conn., just outside Bridgeport proper. Also, during WWII the GE flagship military industrial complex on Bridgeport’s Boston Avenue with its 77 acres of manufacturing floor space ran at full capacity. A myriad of products were made for allied armies, the most famous being all models of the Bazooka which Ike [Gen. Dwight D. Esienhower] credited as one of the top five items that won the war. Other famous industrial plants in this Arsenal included the Corsair fighter plane facility at Seaside Park of the Chance Vaught Sikorsky group, the Singer Industrial Sewing Machine sprawling site converted for 100% war production, the International Harvester steel truck body plant for military vehicles, the Stanley Works two primary steel mills, the Remington Arms Union Metallic ammo complex, the Bridgeport Brass Ordnance plant, Acme Shear medical products factory, Bassick Company grenade mfg facility, American Fabrics military uniform works, Casco Products armor piercing shell plant, Bullard Company torpedo assembly factory, Bryant Electric’s 20 million bullet cores, Canfield Rubber for numerous war effort aeronautic and military vehicle applications and just outside the city limits the sprawling Raymark Industries’ Raybestos plant to just name a few. This Arsenal was heavily guarded from the Atlantic Ocean port of entry. U.S. Army National Guard battalions along with Regular Army Ground Forces’ Coastal Artillery Corps and Barrage Balloon Battalions and Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalions based at Point Judith, Rhode Island in unison with U.S. Coast Guard patrols made sure this Arsenal of Democracy produced war materiel at a record and uninterrupted pace. These factories broke the Axis Enemy Alliance and won numerous Army Navy E Awards for excellence in production achievement with multiple stars indicating that individual plants won the award numerous times as they flew their award flags proudly on the respective plant sites. The workers were motivated at levels equivalent to their fellow Americans with the U.S. Army divisions fighting in all Theaters of War.
– Paul C. via email

And last, but certainly not least, children were involved in the Home Front war effort during WWII. Kids from South High in Grand Rapids went so far as to buy a B-17 bomber for their Uncle Sam…

I’d like to share the true story of junior high and senior high school students from the Class of 1943 at South High School in Grand Rapids, who participated in the “Buy a Bomber” Program, by selling more than $375,000 and bought a B-17 Bomber. They named it, “The Spirit of South High,” and dedicated it on April 6, 1943 in a ceremony at the Kent County Airport. It flew off with the dreams of 1500+ school children to save the war and was never heard again until now…72-years later. What happened to the bomber has been found. Read about it in the new book, “We Bought A WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway.” Over 220 communities, organizations, businesses, counties and cities bought bombers this way. Until now, the story has remained untold. This important story underscores the part children played in helping in the war effort.
– Sandra Warren via online contact form on this website

Send us your own Willow Run Memories! You can learn more about the Willow Run Memories Project here.