Some “veterans” were civilians

Eva Dixon assembled the Enola Gay

As in no other war, WWII brought changes to “The Home Front”. While millions of men (and women) were in the armed forces, spearheading U.S. efforts to defeat Japan , Germany and Italy , factories at home needed workers. In cities across the nation and in small rural villages American housewives shook the dishwater off their hands, and rolled up the sleeves on their gingham dresses. They came to work in factories building, trucks, tanks ships and airplanes. They became machinists, welders, and radio technicians; the nation would never be the same.

Eva, has made her home in or near Boise City since the late 1940s.

She was, at the beginning of WWII, a young pre-war bride, married to her childhood friend, Claude Jester, both were Cherokee Indians who grew up near Sallisaw, at the state's east end.

“We grew up at Wild Horse Mountain , near Sallisaw. Some of the Cherokee lived in houses, some in tents. We raised everything we ate,” Dixon remembered.

“I was the middle child of five, and six years old when my daddy died; my youngest sibling was two days old. My mother had to go to work in Sallisaw. It was 25 to 30 miles away, and she came and went each day on horseback or in a buggy.”

“We kids were there at home and we had to take care of each other; I don't think my two brothers ever drew a check they didn't split it with my mother. We all grew up, but we didn't have what people have now,” she said.

Claude Jester, Eva's first husband grew up with her at Wild Horse Mountain .

Eva's eyes well with tears at Jester's memory, “I thought he was the naughtiest kid, I thought he hated me, and that he was going to pull all my hair out.”

“We were in church one evening, I was nine, and he sat down beside me in the pew. What are you going to do to me now?” I asked him. ‘I'm going to marry you,' he said.”

Six years later, at fifteen, Eva married Claude.

“His daddy and he were both licensed pilots. When the war started he went and was a pilot…he had a mission over Frankfort , Germany , and he died in England ,” Eva said, crying softly.

“His mother was like a sister to me. Vernon , (Vernon Dixon, her second husband), and I were close, but nothing like that. Claude was such a special person.”

At age eighteen, (she lied about her age), Eva, along with other family members moved to Wichita , Kan. , and went to work for the Boeing Aircraft Company. She had seven cousins, an uncle and two aunts at the factory.

“Everyone had a reason to be there. But, since Claude had died, my reason was to do anything to bring those boys home. In my heart, I wanted something that I could do to bring some of them home safe. Even today, I do anything I can for our boys. I crochet Afghans, anything to help them.”

“We worked 12 to 16 hour days assembling those planes. I did everything, sheet metal work on the wings and stabilizer, install the radios.”

“Of course it wasn't all just work, we had clubs, bowling teams.”

I was young, but it wasn't that different. It made no difference we were women. We had a job to do and we did it. We had to stop that war, and if there was anything we could do to do that we did; and I'd do it today if I could, if it were within my means.”

“But we had instructors, standing right behind us. As women, we were supposed to…I guess you'd say work plain. We couldn't wear makeup, and since women used a lot of hand cream, we were instructed not to use hand cream. That was important…for you see, as you were installing rivets, if you had the oil on your hands, it could get between the rivet and the metal, and maybe eventually work its way loose.”

However, for some women, going “plain” wasn't easy.

“We had one girl…how would you say it…I guess she was just too girlified, and she refused to cover her hair. Then one day, there was a scream, and the line shut down. She learned her lesson, her hair had gotten caught and it was pulling a drill toward her face. See, there were reasons for the rules,” Eva said.

In mid 1944, Eva had to ask to be relieved of her duties; her mother was ill.

“Momma died about two weeks after I went home, and soon after that, Boeing called and said they needed experienced, dependable people for a special project. They didn't tell us what it was, but it was the B-29, THAT plane, (The Enola Gay).”

“Of course, we knew nothing about its mission, but later, when we'd heard it had dropped the bomb, I remember saying, ‘Thank you God, send our boys home.' ”

Eva remembers that there were several hundred employees that worked on the B-29 Super Fortress. The plane was state-of-the-art. At 99 feet long, it was the largest bomber of the war, its wing span was nearly half the length of a football field, and weighted nearly 40 tons.

Eva, to hear has to cup a hand near her left ear; it is a result of ten years in the factory.

“I was 28 when Vernon , came got me out of there. But it was too late to save my hearing. Think of yourself working in a ball, and they were shooting rivets, on your left and right, below and above you. But you lose it, (your ability to hear), gradually.”

A chance meeting before the war would bring Eva from the factories of Boeing to the Plains of the Oklahoma Panhandle.

“I met Vernon before the war. My sister's family was out here for broomcorn harvest and I met him then.

We each had married, and he had a family, then in about 1948, when I was working on the 707, (The prototype of the 707 passenger jet), a friend came by and told me that an old boyfriend was in the hospital here. It was Vernon . We were married in Clayton, and our son Vernon junior was born in 1959, he's the Postmaster at Channing , Texas .

As for her wartime experiences, Eva is emphatic that though she realizes its necessity, she is against war, and wants nothing more than for our men and women in uniform to be home.

“I would've liked to have gotten a thank you from some of those boys who got to come home because of what I did. But I guess that's impossible,” Eva smiled.

Boise City News
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