Esther Tritt (Women in World War II)

Biography

Esther Jane (McKinney) Tritt was born on November 7, 1923, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her parents were both born in Carlisle and she was one of six children. She was a senior at Lamberton High School in 1943 and was allowed to graduate early in order to work at the Middletown Air Service Depot in Middletown, Pennsylvania. She married her husband, William Wayne Tritt on February 3, 1944, while he was still on active duty with the military. She stopped working when her husband returned from service in 1946. Esther and William had three children and are members of the First Church of the Brethren. Esther currently resides at the Church of God Home in Carlisle.

Abstract

Esther Tritt began the interview by describing how she was selected as one of six students who were to be allowed to graduate early in order to work at the Middletown Air Service Depot. She then described her three-month training at the Harrisburg Farm Show Building and her work as a production control worker responsible for locating parts for damaged airplanes that were being repaired at Middletown. She also described how she helped the mechanics by reaching into tight spaces with her small hands that the mechanics could not reach on their own. She continued by discussing different aspects of her job explaining how she used the money she earned to help her parents because her mother was ill and her father continued to suffer from injuries from the First World War. Esther Tritt then talked about how she and Wayne Tritt decided to marry on February 3, 1944, after Wayne learned his unit was being sent to Europe. After that, she continued to discuss the her work at Middletown, including a time in 1944 when a B-24 crashed into Blue Mountain during a test flight over the Susquehanna, killing all but two of its crew. Mrs. Tritt then discussed how she loved working at Middletown and her love of airplanes, and how she missed the work when the war ended. She briefly discussed how her church, the First Church of the Brethren, opposed her decision to serve at Middletown but how she felt it was her patriotic duty, and also how her father-in-law faced criticism from his minister for allowing his son to enlist. Mrs. Tritt also detailed the difficulties she faced getting time off from work to visit her husband before he left for Europe and when he returned when the war was over, and how they kept in touch during the war by using their own secret code. She concluded the interview with a story about how she once almost got pulled into the propeller of an airplane.

Methodology

The following transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview that is available from the library of the Cumberland County Historical Society located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The project’s intent in transcribing the interview was to create a clean, readable text without sacrificing the original language of the interview. Because written English differs from spoken English, the project adopted conventions to deal with the variations. No words have been added or changed, and no changes have been made in grammar or sentence structure. Words or short phrases added to clarify the text always appear in brackets; longer explanations will be placed in footnotes. Likewise, descriptions of non-verbal signs, such as nods of the head to indicate agreement or disagreement, have been noted in brackets. In preparing the text, the transcriber omitted false starts and filler words such as “ you know” or “um.” The transcript does not include language from the interviewer that is purely procedural (such as references to turning over the tape) or language that repeats or rephrases a question. No attempt was made to preserve the dialect or pronunciation of the interviewee since the original tapes are available for those interested in those aspects of the interview. (based on the methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War II Oral History Project)

Interview with Esther Tritt at the Church of God Home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on June 5, 2002, with Steven Burg as part of the Cumberland County Women During World War Two Oral History Project. Esther Tritt’s husband Wayne Tritt was also present for the interview.

Steven Burg: Now, I’m very interested to hear what you did during the war, but I’d actually like to start off by asking you to tell me a little bit about what you were doing before the war began.

Esther Tritt: I was a senior in high school.

SB: Where did you go to high school?

ET: I was going to Lamberton High School in Carlisle. And this one day, I think it was in February, someone came from the office, and the teacher answered, and they said they would like to meet with me down in the principal’s office. So I had no idea, and I thought, “What in the world could I have done that they want me in the office?” So anyway, I went down, and I went in, and I was shaken, and I said, “What did I do?” And they said, “Nothing, don’t get excited, Esther,” he said, “We’ll wait for the couple more. We need six volunteers which we picked out--the six that we thought were the most helpful for the government—the U.S. Air Corps.” When they all got there, that’s when they told us this, what they called us in for. And [that was] the reason that they wanted us. We didn’t have to take our senior finals before we graduated. They needed someone that drove a car, and also someone who could drive. Now, I didn’t own a car, but the boy, he had his own car, and then I was the other one to take over in case anything happened. Well my dad let me use his whenever he was off, he worked at the Bethlehem Steel.

SB: What were they recruiting you for?

ET: For working in the different departments of [the Middletown Air Service Depot]. [That is] what they needed the students to work for, and we had to train for three months in Harrisburg at the Farm Show Building. That was all set up for the government work, and all with airplanes and everything, and electrical, and everything you can imagine. And airplanes, different airplanes.

SB: So they were training you to be an inspector?

ET: Anything imaginable. I could put it that way.

SB: What kinds of things did they train you to do?

ET: I was trained for production control and I had to help the mechanics in the blueprint office if they needed any parts or anything, [to] help them with the paperwork, the parts numbers and everything. And, then when they came in, I had to see that they got them. And everything was all bookwork and paperwork.

And not only that, but this one day when I was at my desk, one of the fellows came in—one of the inspectors and mechanics—and this one plane that they were repairing at the time was too hard for them to get their hands in this little inspection plate. And they had noticed that I had small hands, and my boss happened to be there in the office, and he said, “Mr. Lyle Weaver (sp?) and Mr. Tripp—he was the head one—and he said, “We would like to see if Esther could come out and give us a hand on this plane because the fellows just can’t get their hands in.” And they weren’t allowed to cut them any bigger. So I had to crawl up on the wing, and I got in, and I worked my hands around as far as I could and get my hand in there and they would work up from the bottom, and someone was in the cockpit, and they gave me the wrench—which I had never used before [laughs]—and they told me what to do, and I did, and I worked, and they slid this wrench down in alongside my fingers like this [slides two fingers from wrist to center of palm] and I got the socket wrench in there. And in order to get that part fastened in there, I had to be able and work forever. I didn’t dare let it drop! [laughs] Which I didn’t!

SB: How long did you do that for?

ET: It didn’t take so long. But it was just different things that they needed at the time, and they couldn’t do it.

SB: You were working where?

ET: The Middletown Air Supply Depot.

SB: Was it just repairing planes, or was actually building planes?

ET: It was repairing the planes that come in that were damaged.

SB: So did you see planes that had actually been in combat?

ET: Oh, yes.

SB: How did that make you feel to see those planes?

ET: Kind of hits you. [laughs] But I really enjoyed it because I learned so much. In the three months we trained at the Farm Show Building in Harrisburg, then from there, then after we were finished with those three months they let us take the choice of three or four different air depots.

SB: Could you tell me a little bit more about the training, was it just you and the other six people from you school or people from all over the state?

ET: All over the state.

SB: How many would you say?

ET: In our class--we each had our own class for that type of work—Every part of the plane. We had the fuselage, we had the wing department, machine department, and the electrical—that was big—I worked in those before I came into the main office.

SB: In your training, who was training you?

ET: Mr. Lanker [sp?] was our trainer at the time for our bookwork. And that was all in training us for every section. They had their own numbering system that you had to know exactly what area that went to.

SB: Now Middletown, was that a military base or a private company?

ET: No, that was a military base.

SB: Were the people you were working with military, or were they civilians?

ET: They were civilians.

SB: Were there many men and women?

ET: Oh yes, they even had midgets, and that was comical. You know how short they are. And how they would climb up, up those planes on those ladders and they would stack them up—the things like you do—with the scaffolding to get up into the plane wings, and I’ve been in and out of every plane.

SB: Were there a lot of people working there who had worked there before the war, or was it mostly new people?

ET: There were a lot there who were there before.

SB: How did they treat you, especially because you were so young?

ET: Fine, oh some of them got a little off hand, but we knew what we had to straighten out, and they thought they could just come and get the parts—but uh-uh.

SB: Did that happen often?

ET: No. No, that was settled.

SB: It sounds like you’ve got a story there. Was there a specific incident that you are thinking about?

ET: No, there were several women in there who were divorced, and when they find that out, they try to take over [laughs]. The parachute department—that was a completely different building. And the rubber repair, and the wheels, that was in different section, in a wooded section, on the outskirts of Middletown.

SB: Did you live in Middletown while you were working there?

ET: No, I lived in Carlisle. But in the beginning when we went for training we traveled by car.

SB: Was that a problem with the gas and rubber rationing?

ET: Yes, gas rationing. The owner of the car could get three [extra] a month gas rationing tickets if we ran out of gas. But we had to have that booklet with these certain gas coupons.

SB: So did you live at home then while you working at Middletown?

ET: Yes. For a while I was. And then after I was married, I went to live with Wayne’s parents because it was closer for me because we had to ride the bus. We had to get up early in the morning and the bus left 5:00 or 5:15 in the morning. No matter snow, or ice, or rain, or what, we had to go.

SB: Was there a lot of secrecy surrounding the base and the work there?

ET: Yeah, and I happen to know one of the main inspectors, but they didn’t know it. But I knew him. He was from Carlisle.

SB: That was supposed to be secret?

ET: Uh huh.

SB: Why was that?

ET: So that they didn’t know that they were being watched, and they would check over the book everyday for anything that was put into that book.

SB: Could you discuss your work with your family or friends who weren’t working at the base or were you told to keep quiet about what you were doing?

ET: Well, I would more or less keep it quiet.

SB: Did you continue to socialize with your friends from high school, or did you begin to socialize with the people that you worked with?

ET: Yeah, I guess you would say that. The girls, there were five of us girls and this one boy, and we could talk in the car. And each of them were in their certain departments, but they were training. But Mr. Lanker was a very good and brilliant teacher for the training at the Farm Show Building. That’s where it all started. We had to start there and then graduate from there into the departments, so they let us pick where wanted to go. Hawaii was one, and here Middletown was another one, and I can’t remember what the other ones were. But my parent—when I said Hawaii—my mother started to cry. And she says, “Oh no, Esther,” she says, “Don’t go there.” Because it was after the war, and it was so damaged up.

SB: Did any of the other girls volunteer to go to Hawaii?

ET: No, not a one. I think the whole bunch of us stayed in the Middletown. I’m pretty sure they did. And I worked in the engine repair shop first, and that was tricky.

SB: How come that was tricky?

ET: It was hard with all these parts to an engine. And the size of engines. It’s amazing. You just can’t believe.

SB: Were you proud to be working on those engines?

ET: Yes I was. And I worked myself up, and its on my badge, and the badges had to be marked and with our picture and everything.

SB: What was that badge?

ET: That was the only way that I could get in and out of the base.

SB: There were guards?

ET: Oh, yes.

SB: Were the people who were working with you on the base, you said they were civilians. Was there a union on the base?

ET: I don’t remember that. They did have some special fellows who worked at the base also, and they would help us with our income tax, that we would go to them and they would fill out our income tax.

SB: You were paid while you were working at the base?

ET: Fifty dollars a month.

SB: That was a lot of money?

ET: That was a lot of money. [laughs] Well, they didn’t pay much.

SB: What did you do on the fifty dollars a month?

ET: I spent most of it paying bills at home.

SB: For your family?

ET: Yes. Many a time I didn’t have much at all to go on. I remember one time I only had fifteen cents in my pocket because I had paid some bills. My mother was sickly and daddy was working at Middletown and he had work, and then he got sick. He almost died. [Wayne Tritt: He worked at Bethlehem Steel, right?] Not at that time. He was on the highway working then. But then he was at Bethlehem Steel and that how I got the use when he was sick again. But he was wounded so bad in the First World War.

SB: He was a veteran?

ET: Oh yes. And they never could operate.

SB: Do you remember how much you worked each day, and how many days a week you worked?

ET: Yes, it was from 7:00 to 4:00 or 3:00, and if we were five minutes late, we were deducted a whole hour’s pay.

SB: And then did you work five days a week? Six days a week?

ET: Six days a week.

[break]

SB: You mentioned that you got married during the war. How did you meet your husband?

ET: In church. First Church of the Brethren. We were married. He came home one weekend and he had an idea, he was up in Queen’s College, studying engineering for officer’s training. That was canceled, then they were shipped down South to Mississippi, to the 69th Division. Anyway, he came home that one weekend, and he said he wanted to get married because it was just a little less than six years that we went together. I told my dad you know, and my mother, and daddy kind of concerned about that because my brother-in-law was killed in the Air Corps, but Wayne said he didn’t want to go overseas without being married.

WT: That happened after I found out our unit was moving to Europe.

SB: What year was that?

WT: That was in ’44.

ET: February the third, 1944.

WT: That was when we got married, February 3, 1944.

ET: But when I went into the government with this Air Corp stuff, we had to make up our mind in two weeks time—it might have even been a week—that we went in to go to Harrisburg for training.

SB: So how did you decide?

ET: I just said as long as I would graduate, and they said you don’t have to worry about that, we have all your records.

SB: What did your parents think about you going to that kind of work?

ET: They were a little concerned, but then daddy--I just felt like I needed, I needed. And I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed the work. There were so many in each division of the girls that worked with so many planes at a time, and even after they went out, when they were repaired, and they took them outside, and some of the big airplanes, and even some of the small ones, they had to go out for a test flight first. We’d have to lot of times go out and be there to make sure that if there was anything else that was needed, then I was working on that particular plane, I had to be there to take down anything that was needed.

SB: Could you describe for me the process when plane would come in and then the different stages. Would it come in on a train or a truck?

ET: We never knew. No.

SB: You never knew? They just showed up there.

ET: At one time we had a hundred planes come in at one time. B-17’s and they kept some of them in another [area], and then they’d wheel them into the big plant. We had three different divisions.

SB: How many people were working on a plane at one time.

ET: That I can’t tell you. It was a good many. And we only had a half an hour for our lunches.

SB: Was it difficult work?

ET: It wasn’t really difficult, but you really had to remember the serial numbers of everything. And all the screws and bolts and stuff, little things and washers, how many? Anything that had to be given, or how many is ordered. Even if it was just one screw, or a bolt, or anything like that, it had to be marked down. For a while it was five papers that we had, and some of them were colored, and they went to certain different offices. And we had to know when it came time to order them, we had to go back to the blue print office and make sure we had the right part and the right serial number.

[break]

ET: The head bosses during working hours, we had way up high on catwalks and they would be walking around and watching what was going on.

SB: Were they military officers?

ET: They were military.

SB: Did you have a lot of interaction with the military people at the base or mostly with the civilians?

ET: Mostly with the civilians and our own particular bosses.

SB: Who was your boss?

ET: We had a number of bosses at each department. And from engineering department I went offer to the engine department, and then we had the steel and propeller sections. Oh, there were so many. I couldn’t begin to tell you all of them.

SB: Did you keep track of the planes that you worked on and where they were going?

ET: I just a track of the planes, of how many came in and came out, and what numbers they were. Each plane had their own number.

SB: How many planes do you think you worked on?

ET: Each day we had six or eight, maybe ten. And that was a good bit to remember.

SB: So how did you feel when you watched newsreels and saw planes?

ET: It was heartening. I really enjoyed it though. I always liked the airplanes, from little up. I always enjoyed [them]. I’d run to the window or outside to see an airplane fly by.

SB: Did you have a favorite kind of airplane to work on?

ET: No, not exactly. My first airplane I had was a P-47, and then the next one was the B-17, and then it went to the B-24s, A-56s, A-51s—oh, so many of them—and we only ever had one—what do you call those, they’re made of plywood? And they only had one that came in to be repaired. But we didn’t have much to do with them because they were nothing but plywood.

SB: Do you remember any other stories?

ET: Yes, you were too young to remember this. Back in ’44 one of the B-24s set up for a test flight and they never made it back over the [Susquehanna] river.

SB: They would fly out over the Susquehanna River?

ET: They were [on a] test flight around and here when they went to come back, the South Mountain was other there—right across from the airport—and it never made it back. And a friend of our church, Paul Castle [sp?] he was an electrician and he was one of them that got out, and the other fellow had his leg slit off. The one engine--I’ve never heard of them finding that engine. It plowed right into the mountain and they tried to jump out when they knew what was going to happen, and they jumped out that side window where they had the cannon, the guns. Anyway the other fellow didn’t make it back. I not sure whether Paul Castle, our friend, got back or not.

SB: Was that the only accident?

ET: That’s the only one that I remember.

SB: How did the base react?

ET: We were really broken up. And when we found it out, they opened up the Number Two Wing Section that looked out over the Susquehanna and up to the mountain, but you couldn’t see anything. You couldn’t see nothing. But after work was over a bunch of us, there were six of us, got in the car and went over to the other side, where we had to go over into Harrisburg, and across to come down the old road from Harrisburg towards York to see, but they had it ribboned off, because it was blocked off.

SB: Was that the way you usually went home? Or did you just go that way to try to see the sight?

ET: No, we just went to see where it happened. But we couldn’t see much of anything. The rest of them were all killed.

SB: Was there any kind of honor or award for those killed?

ET: I don’t remember.

SB: When you went to work at the base, did you think you were doing it just for the war or did you think it might be something you would continue after war was over?

ET: Well, no I knew I wouldn’t be able to.

SB: How come?

ET: [pause] Because we wanted to get married. Therefore my name changed. [laughs] in the beginning of ’44. And we wanted to go to housekeeping, we wanted children, so therefore it had to stop.

SB: Do you remember when the war was over?

ET: Oh yeah, and I got to see Eisenhower.

SB: Were you still at the depot when the war was over?

ET: Yeah.

SB: How did people react when they heard the war was over?

ET: Of course, we were all glad, but I continued on until December ’45.

SB: How did you learn that the war had ended?

ET: I think it was on the radio, I believe.

SB: You said you saw Eisenhower.

ET: Yeah, he came to town, out at the [Carlisle] Barracks. And it just so happened I was able to go to town, into the Square, across from the market house and the court house—of course you know what happened to the market house, it’s now the court house—and Eisenhower came to the Barracks and he was riding [in] a convertible, he was sitting up in the backseat, he and two other fellows, and he was dressed in his uniform, the town was just polluted with people, celebrating, and to see the President.

SB: That was when he was president?

ET: Yeah. That was after. That’s when I was working for the crystal plant, Hoffman crystal plant, and that was up above where the theater is now, only up in the second floor. No, it was above Woolworth’s first. . . . It was changed from three different places, the crystal plant. And my aunt she was one of the head one’s in the crystal with this boss that she had.

[break]

SB: How do you feel that your life changed when the war ended?

ET: Well, it was different, and I really missed it, because I loved my work. When I went back to work, it was after the last baby we had, we had three—the first one was a miscarriage and then I had three. We needed the money. We had bought a home and we needed the money, and I was still trying to help some out with my parents, but I had to stop it, because we needed it, too. And my sister had gone to Texas and she was married, and then she was pregnant, she came home, and the baby was born in ’44. Anything else?

SB: One last question. How would you say the experience of the war affected your life or changed your life?

ET: Well, if I was young, I’d go back into it, what I was doing before.

SB: Do you think it has been something that…

ET: It’s something that has clung to me. [WT: I think she felt she was doing her . . .] My duty. [WT: Part of her responsibility to be a good citizen]. Yes, that was my duty.

SB: Do you feel that people…

ET: Oh, the church was against it. [laughs]

SB: The Church of the Brethren? They were against you working…

ET: At the military, by the military. And even when the boys—well, he was drafted, but his brother had joined in ’41, and I’ll never forget the day that the minister came down to his dad’s store—he ran a store on Walnut and Pitt Street—and he jumped my father-in-law about letting his son go into the Army because they didn’t believe in war.

SB: Did you have a lot of people from your church who…

ET: There were several that went ahead after Clare [sp?] had joined.

SB: Were there many who were in the civil defense corps or conscientious objectors?

ET: Oh yes, there was civil defense. My dad was even on that.

SB: And that was considered o.k. by the church?

ET: Whether they wanted to or not, they did. [WT: The church actually started that conscientious objector, not necessarily our own church, but the church in general. I don’t know how many from out local congregation [did that]—not too many I guess].

SB: Was that hard for you?

ET: Every one of them came back. Everyone came back.

SB: Was that a hard decision for you to make to do the war work even though the church might have been against it.

ET: No. I felt that’s my duty, and if they want to kick me out, they could kick me out.

SB: And they didn’t.

ET: No. They didn’t kick me out….

SB: Is there anything else you would like people to know about what you did during the war?

ET: Well, I could drive the army truck, when I had the main driver with me. And I could use the little electric carts, you had to be so much free, I could go and drive around with these different parts to deliver them in the building. So I could work in the whole three departments.

SB: Do you think women like yourself who did so much during the war, do you feel that people recognize your contributions?

ET: I don’t know. I don’t know. Several of we senior girls, we’d get together and have a dinner, but then after I had a bad accident myself, I wasn’t able to drive anymore.

SB: Are any of the women that you worked with, are any of them still alive from your class?

ET: As far as I know, they are all living. I’m not sure about Tom, the boy. He was living out West somewhere.

SB: Are any still in the area, or did any move away after the war?

ET: That I can’t tell you. As far as I know, they were all married, but I’m not sure they all are still married to the same one. But the girl that lived down the street, we’d see each other at time until after she was married and then she moved away….There was a Joyce Kramer [sp?]. She lived out on North Pitt Street, and she married her old boyfriend that she was going with when she was in school. Betty Fletcher [sp?], she worked at Bixler’s hardware store. Dorothy Newcomer [sp?], I think was her name, but she moved in the South, she married her Army friend, he went to the service and she married him and they moved out of state. The only one that I’ve met so far is Joyce, she’s a good friend of my sister, she’s a hairdresser or she was, and Betty Fletcher, she married a fellow that worked at Bixler’s. And they’re the only two that I can remember, and then the other girls were from high school, so we kept together until I was no longer able. If I were younger, I’d do the same thing.

SB: Well, thank you so much.

ET: I also worked at Rubber Repair which I was transferred in from my work in the main building, with Mr. Tripp.

SB: When you say Rubber Repair, was that tires?

ET: That was another building, the end towards Harrisburg or Highspire. And that was all separate work, and women were not allowed to lift those tires or crankcases, a couple of things for the tires and wheels. That was where I was when I left the base.

SB: What did you do in Rubber Repair?

ET: The same work, only in new Rubber Repair. So I’ve had training almost all through the thing.

SB: So you could build an entire plane?

ET: Oh no, get the parts for it. [laughs] I’d get the parts that they needed.

SB: And then there were other mechanics who would do things.

ET: Oh yes. But a lot of inspectors, they were always checking the books, even the main bosses would come and check, and the inspectors, they would get together and everything turned out o.k. as far as they were concerned.

SB: Did they ever find problems?

ET: No. Except that two problems that they had was that he [Wayne] wanted me to come up to New York one time that he was up there. He was stationed—we weren’t married yet. And he wanted me to come. Well, I figured what was coming, and that he’d be leaving the states, and that’s when he decided he wanted to get married, and then when he come home, that was another thing. The telephone rang at my grandmother’s that night, and they called me, I had to get up early that morning to get the bus, and he told grandma who it was, and I was sleeping sound, and she was calling me from the—they had an opening up the hallway, great like, and she calling me, and she couldn’t get me awake, so the poor soul she crawled up on her hands and knees up the steps to my room and called me and wakened me, and she says, “Esther, you have an important call, you have an important call here for you. I knew you’ll have to take it.” So I got up and got a few more clothes because grandpa was down there and she was quilting and he was listening to the radio, and when I answered, I said, “Hello?” And he said, “Hello, do you know who this is?” or something like that, and I said, “Yes, yes, Wayne, where are you?” [laughs] He said, “I’m at Fort Dix. I’m being discharged that day or the next day, and I want you to come down to Philadelphia and meet me.” So I called into the office, and I told them that I wouldn’t be at work, that my husband called and he’s being discharged, and I said, “I want to go. He just came home.” They didn’t want to release me and let me go. So I had two times from his calls that I got two red marks.

SB: When was that?

ET: March 16, 1946.

SB: How did you keep in touch during the war?

ET: Oh yes, we wrote back and forth, back and forth. [WT: And by letter.]

SB: How was that experience of just knowing that he was off in the war?

ET: Well, he could tell me different things, and we had a secret code. [WT: Everything that I wrote had to be scrutinized by my superior officer, because they knew what I could write and what I couldn’t, so to start with we wouldn’t put much in there that might be questionable.] The letters weren’t very long. [laughs]

SB: What was your secret code?

ET: I don’t remember. How he told me where he was--in the first letter of the first sentence, somehow in there, there was a code. I knew where he was.

SB: Did that make you more comfortable or more nervous knowing?

ET: Nervous. It was worse because it was pretty bad at that time.

SB: Did you follow the newspaper very closely or listen to the radio?

ET: Yeah. To get back, we had to use the Army truck to haul these tires and stuff to the rubber plant.

SB: Did you drive?

ET: Sometimes with the lady beside me, I could drive as long as she was with me because I didn’t have my regular full license. I was training at that time….

SB: That’s an amazing story, thank you so much.

WT: So your title was like a stock tracer.

ET: Yes, stock tracer.

WT: So she really worked out of a stock room, basically, for parts. That’s the reason she’s emphasizing you needed to know part numbers. I understand that—I worked in an aircraft factory, too, so I know a little bit about that.

ET: We had to order and pick up, and when it came in it came in to the person who wrote it up. I actually walked on the catwalk of the bombers, that’s all the space that they had to walk on, from the front back to the tail section.

 

SB: Why were you walking on those catwalks?

ET: To get back to the fellows that were back in that particular area, or in the cockpit with all the instruments.

SB: Would you bring them up the parts?

ET: Or let them know, and some of them would have to come and pick them up. For it I let any of them fall—whew. [laughs] And the bombs, where the bomb-bay doors were. [WT: See that’s where the catwalks are, really, she talking about where the bomb-bay doors are]. They were hanging from inside the fuselage part. And the tail-gunners, and then the had the front of the B-24s, there was a gunner up there, too, in the top….I just loved my work.

SB: What did you love about it?

ET: It was so interesting. And to think, what they have to know, and what we had to know that they knew. Its amazing. But a lot of the fellows were drafted, those that hadn’t been in the service yet, they were drafted into the service.

SB: Were they replaced by other men, or women?

ET: Oh yeah.

SB: Were there any women working as mechanics?

ET: Oh yeah, but I wasn’t one of them, I was one of the higher ups in order. It was funny when I went in for the main working, Mr. Tripp was my head boss, and Mrs. Troop was the secretary to the Tripp, and I came in and became Tritt, so there was Troop, Tripp, and Tritt in the office. [pause] I’ll never forget it. Never. I just wish I was younger. I know I can’t do anything now. I doubt it. [laughs] Not at my age. November I’ll be 79.

SB: Thank you so much.

ET: You’re welcome.

[break]

ET: There were those [planes] that were finished and were ready to out for a test drive. And there was a smaller plane sitting in front of the big one, and then there was another hanger right near where I had to go out to the runway. And this one day—when the propeller was running, you didn’t dare walk in front of the propeller, or you would draw. And mind you, this one time I got just a little bit too close and it started pulling me in towards this plane. Oh, that was shocking. That was the first time that I’d gone out on the runway.

SB: What did you do?

ET: I just held tight and tried to walk backward and away from the way I was walking, but that was the closest thing I ever had.

SB: Did that happen to anyone else?

ET: Oh probably, probably many, that’s why they had warned not to ever walk in front of a plane that’s running. [WT: Nope, that a no-no. People have been killed by doing that accidentally]. Yeah, accidentally, even pilots. [WT: Prop wash they call it. Their pulling air, and of the course the breaks on the plane have to be on or else the plane will start moving.] The plane was locked, it had the breaks on. [WT: Its very dangerous working around aircraft]. But that’s the most dangerous thing I ever had.

[end of interview]

Citation:
Steven Burg, "Esther Tritt, June 5, 2002," in the Elizabeth V. and George F. Gardner Digital Library, http://gardnerlibrary.org/stories/esther-tritt-women-world-war-ii, (accessed Month Day, Year).

This story covers the following people:

This story covers the following places:

Similar Story

Phyllis Hershey (Women in World War II)

Photo of Phyllis Hershey during the Interview

Interview with Phyllis Hershey at her home in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania on July 30, 2002 with Jennifer Elliott as part of the Cumberland County Women During World War Two Oral History Project. Hershey discusses how students would assist the community during black outs and other civil defense drills, working at the Middletown Air Service Depot selling war bonds and collecting health insurance premiums for Blue Cross and later as a teletype operator. Hershey also talks about how German Prisonsers of War would clean the depot each night.

Related Entry

Similar Heart and Soul Story