Are We Overlooking Something?

We know a great deal about the efforts by those who fought on land, on sea, and in the air in both the European and the Pacific theaters during WWII. We know of their heroism and the terrible battles they fought from Normandy to Anzio, from the Philippines to Iwo Jima, and we honor them with rightful pride. But there was another part of the war effort that is generally unknown and unrecognized. This film is about just one aspect of the war effort, that is, the efforts here on the home front. It is about the huge assembly plant at Willow Run in Michigan that built the B-24 bombers.

Ford Motor company conceived of this plant and completed it before the war had begun. Its size and the incredible complexity involved in its planning and construction is stunning. When the war began, the men and the women of the Willow Run Assembly Plant went into action and in high gear.

At the height of their production efforts, they were rolling new B-24’s off the assembly line every 50 minutes.

It is one thing to put together the few hundred parts of an automobile on an assembly line, but these huge bombers had millions of parts and the coordination of production was as complex as it could be. But the genius of Henry Ford’s engineering, and the manifold skills of those assembly plant workers, along with their patriotic dedication to be a part of the war effort against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, brought it all together. Neither Hitler, nor the Japanese imperial forces realized what they had awakened in the American people. They would come to know it to their destruction in a very short period of time.

B-24’s at the Willow Run bomber plant

Willow Run not only built the planes, they also had test pilots in great numbers to fly them and test them out as they came off of the assembly line. As the war went on, the Willow Run engineers would modify and improve the B-24 constantly. These bombers would eventually fly thousands of missions over Europe and all over the Pacific throughout the war.

The actor, Jimmy Stewart, would pilot one on several combat missions over European targets. Louis Zamperini, the man about whom the book, Unbroken is written, was a bombardier on B-24’s in the Pacific. It was on a search mission that his B-24 went down off of Hawaii, which began his long ordeal as one of three survivors, floating for over two months on a raft until they were eventually captured by the Japanese.

The B-24 was one of the most effective bombers in WWII. The number of them that were produced is staggering and proves that the war was also won by the immense production capacity and the dedication of the American work force, many of whom were women.

These are the women who would become collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter.”

Yes, we honor those who fought on the bloody and terrible fields of battle, but we also honor those whose genius, sweat, sacrifice and dedication on the home front, gave those on the battlefields across the world the tools they needed to win their final victories. They are as much a part of the Greatest Generation as those who fought and bled.

Let us praise them, before they are all gone too.

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