The women who won the war: Blanche Skee

Stories from some local ‘Rosie the Riveters’

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Warren Weekly | Published April 29, 2015

 Blanche Skee, formerly of Warren, shares wartime memorabilia including a photo of herself from the ’40s.

Blanche Skee, formerly of Warren, shares wartime memorabilia including a photo of herself from the ’40s.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Editor's note: This story about a local 'Rosie the Riveter' is one of a handful included in a full-length C & G Newspapers feature commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of World War II in Europe. The war in Europe ended with the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945. Click here for more V-E Day stories from our coverage area.

Blanche Skee, 94, Warren

Blanche Skee has seen some tough times in her long life.

She moved to Detroit with her family as a child from Dunkirk, New York, so her father could work at Ford Motor Co. She recalls that the company was a wonderful place to work, but unfortunately her family had arrived just in time for the Great Depression.

Before getting married to a friend’s cousin in 1941, Skee attended school in Detroit. Skee said she and her husband, Frank Skee, “just ended up dating” and shared a long and happy marriage because they “shared the same ideas.”

Not long after they were married, though, more hardships came when the U.S. became involved in the war after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Skee went to work at a factory sewing gloves for soldiers, while her husband went to work at the Willow Run bomber plant.

“He volunteered (to serve) I don’t know how many times, but his eyes were bad,” said Skee. “They told him they would have to draft two more people to take care of him in case he lost his glasses.”

At the glove factory, Skee remembers she was making 35 cents an hour. Even in those times the wage wasn’t great, so when her sister told her about a better opportunity at Murray Body Co. in downtown Detroit building airplane wing tips, she jumped at the chance.

“I can’t remember what I made as a riveter, but I remember it was just fabulous compared to the glove factory, because by then, there were unions and they had gotten us benefits,” she said.

After getting hired, Skee went to work building wing tips for various machines that Murray was contracted by the military to create, which, according to the company’s website, were  the Boeing B-17 “Fortress” and B-29 “Super Fortress” heavy bombers, Douglas A-20 “Havoc” light bomber and Republic P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter/bomber.

“My partner and I did a pretty good job. We would even repair what others messed up,” she said, adding that with her small frame, she could even climb inside the wings to do the work. “There were times when we worked 10 hours a day, including Sundays. Everything was in a hurry then.”

Eventually, Frank was able to transfer from Willow Run to Murray Body, and the couple rode in to work together daily. That is, until about 1943, when they learned that their first daughter, Kathleen, was on the way.

Though Skee transitioned from riveter to stay-at-home mom, the trials of wartime were never far away.

“We had to be very frugal,” she recalled. “That’s why I still shop at thrift shops. There was always a shortage of shoes, nylons, everything. You had to wait in line to get nylons.”

Her daughter Kathleen Bowers, of Warren, remembers the experience from her childhood.

“You know how some kids will tell their mom, ‘Let’s play house’? Well, I would say, ‘Mom, let’s play wait in line for butter,’” Bowers said with a laugh. “I can’t picture people giving (things) up like that today like they did back then. And they just did it.”

One of Skee’s favorite stories from that era to tell family is when her brother, who was serving in the Navy, was on his way back to the states for a short leave.

“He was coming home, and we were wondering what we were going to feed him because, you know, the services got the best food and there was always a shortage of (food) back here,” Skee explained. “My husband told me about a place that was selling horse meat. So, I stood in line for horse meat and I had it ground into hamburger. I used it to make stuffed cabbage, so you couldn’t tell what it was.”

Skee laughed remembering how, that night, her husband couldn’t help but make a joke at the table to the unaware serviceman, reacting to the meal with a horse-like “whoa-ho-ho-ho.”

“I remember having so much fun, no matter what we did,” Skee said of the time. She added that despite the somber mood of the country, her family did their best to press on. All of her uncles who fought in the war returned home with the exception of her father’s brother, who died at Iwo Jima.

Later in life, she would move to Warren with her two daughters and enjoy time with five grandchildren. She now lives in a senior living facility in Oxford and doesn’t think much of her time as a “Rosie.” She just says she did what she had to do — though, she’ll admit, crawling into the wings of the planes that would win the war was a thrilling task.

“To sew men’s gloves, that’s a woman’s job. But to be a riveter, that was exciting.”