Roverta A. Olinger went from being a farm girl to a woman in her early 20s headed for a big city and an even bigger journey. She found herself leaving her home in South Dakota on a crowded train surrounded by servicemen.
Seattle-bound, Olinger would work on the home front helping build B-29 bomber airplanes for Boeing during World War II. She witnessed the construction of the bomber that “would be used to defend our country, our way of life and eventually would drop the atomic bomb.”
In her book titled, “What Did You Do in the War, Gram?” Olinger documented her work experiences, friendships and budding romances — one romance in particular led to marriage with a Navy Purser. On June 8, 90-year-old Olinger visited The Museum of Flight ready to pose for photos and sign copies of her book, written at the request of her granddaughter.
After graduating high school in 1940, Olinger’s friends were either in college or stationed in the military. Olinger was out of work and living with her great aunt and great uncle. He told her a Boeing employer was looking for new hires, so she packed her belongings and left town with $100.
Far from home, she still stayed close to who she was. She became like Rosie the Riveter. Although Olinger was surrounded by many working men, she never strayed from her ladylike grace. “Many times, I put my hair in pin curls that I brought to work,” she wrote. “We were required to wear a scarf at all times. I covered the pins during the day so that my hair was curled when I went out in the evening.”
In her book, Olinger explains the Boeing plant where she worked was topped with false buildings and trees to avoid being easily detected from above. She also recalled frequent raid drills where employees had to evacuate. One time, the electricity went out, creating a scare. Luckily, the cause of the power outage was not serious.
Olinger’s book offers a unique, detailed insight into an often unheard part of our history. Three Miss A writers were able to meet Olinger during her visit. She signed Miss A Columnist Stacey Mertes‘ book, “There’s war all around, may there be peace in your heart.” Her story is a reminder of our nation’s past and the price it cost for the freedoms we have today without often giving either of them a second thought.