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World War II: Building C4-GA Gliders for the War Effort

In the summer of 1943, just before the July invasion of Sicily by the Allies using gliders she helped make, 25 year old Jane Beasley talked her way into the well-paid job of glider construction in Kansas City. A total of 13,909 CG-4A gliders were constructed during the period 1942-1945. These were also used in the invasion of Normandy, for crossing the Rhine at Arnhem, and to supply remote bases in China and Burma. They were made of tubular steel, canvas, and plywood. Less than a dozen survived the war and are in museums today.

Here is Jane Beasley Raph's story in her own words.


Gliding Gladys

Click for larger image
This World War II work permit enabled Jane Beasley to travel from Detroit to Kansas City and work as a doper in a glider factory during 1943. (Click for larger image.)

Events, people, machines, institutions, customs, values .. all the inward and outward ways of living are being catastrophized by the war world today into entirely new, precision-like channels of endeavor—happiness is measured in minutes, money is allotted in billions, lives ere pushed about by chance, and hope and faith rise to fill empty hearts and arms.

No one can remain aloof from the impact of these changes. He may only be aware  of upheaval through newspaper headlines, or tax totals, or the overheard conversation of a stranger whose loved one is "somewhere in the Pacific", but the changes come, regardless.

Imagine the awed bewilderment of a school teacher accustomed to the set routines and stiffly proper society of the educational field transplanted to the assorted life of a huge war plant with its clocked hours, identification passes, unions, fingerprints, foremen, lead men, guards, pay deductions, and dinner palls.

Jane Beasley in about 1945.

(There I was)—First the grueling day of interviews, when a college degree of majors and minors in English, Fine Arts, Education is red penciled as being non-useful. "Haven't you kept up with the times? No blue print reading? No experience in wood work? Never heard of metallurgy? Graduated without college math? Never sewed? Can't even type? You should volunteer for the Red Cross Bandaging Class .. not ask us for a job! But wait, we need workers on the production line. Ever smelled paint? Varnish? Glue? Not just a polite sniff, but really smelled it for hours in a spray-filled room until your hair and you are steeped in it you literally "Stick"...? But no, you wouldn't last in a place like that.

Too messy for a S. T. [School Teacher]. We had one there once. She lasted four days. You couldn't wear pretty slacks, you know. This stuff doesn't wash out. You can't even look pretty. Your hair has to be tied out of the way and your sleeves rolled up. Say could you climb up and down on a cat walk (Now what, I wonder, is that?), get on your "belly" (horrors!) and slide on the floor, then clamber back up and keep going? No, you see, you should sell war stamps at a pretty booth opposite some handkerchief counter. We've no place for you here." You insist on having a try. "All right ... but I'll bet you don't last. I'll bet you a steak dinner you ask for a release in a week... (Hum, he doesn't know the lengths I'll go for a steak dinner!)… And we'll have to give it to you..and mark you too fragile for the job." (Well, nothing like a bright beginning, I always say.)

First night...(Night partly for the novelty, partly for the 5 cents per hour extra). The guard examines my identification pass, the shiny button proclaiming I'm a war worker (what do I care what the neighbors think .. I've admired these insignias all year. 'S funny.. S. T.'s never get badges.) My lunch pall (imagine me carrying a lunch without trying to disguise it as a package from Saks Fifth Avenue). And at last I'm inside the place. Then to the time clock, punched without any place to mark an excuse if I'm late. So to the paintshop.

On June 29, 1943, a second major WWII design change to aircraft insignia was adopted. A white rectangle or bar was added on each side of the blue circle and a red border surrounding the entire insignia.

The new design was estimated to be 60 percent more recognizable and was more easily distinguished from the Japanese "Meatball" and German Cross.
(United States Air Force Museum)

C4-GA glider under construction
CG-4A airframes under construction.

"Gals" and "guys" ... why they look like people I've always known ... The foreman makes the introductions. Winnie, Gertie, Ella, Slim, Dick, Harold, Ben ... all of them momentarily stopping work for a look at the "new piece". Gee, I'm glad they don't know I'm a S.T. (Wonder if they suspect it, I'll never tell.) The lead man ... they call him Casanova because of his pretty hair ... hands me a dope bucket, a brush, a pair of scissors, a knife, and a gob of cream for my hands ... and I'm launched on the career of becoming a professional doper... (Well, I paid a union $5.00 ... it must make me a professional something.)

On one side of the huge bricked in room is a fan running, on the other a cascade of water to keep the air from becoming too saturated with paint. The men man the paint sprayers,  covering the huge wings of the glider. (Did I tell you this plant makes gliders for the Army at Thirty Thousand per? And did you notice how they used gliders for landing men and supplies in Sicily?) ... with the Kaki or Blue .. and finishing it off with that thrilling white star enclosed in a blue circle that is winging its way around the world for victory. (Since first coming the insignia has been changed and the blue circle is now bounded in red with an additional white square opposite the star on either side ... also bounded in red.)

The wings are first covered with a canvas fabric stretched on like wall paper over plywood. Then every seam, hold, open place, closed place, and edge is taped down with the all adhesive dope that not only makes the wings air tight, but covers my hands, my slacks, my eyebrows, my hair, and my tools with a fast drying coat that peels off like nail polish or rubs off with a thinner that burns like H---. (My English is fast slipping into a combination of profanity, Missouri drawl and all the "moldering" elements of the King's English.) ("I set it down .. I shore do, honey chile', I'd--- near ain't got a cint left .. and I sez to him he kin up and leave me. I'll git me a job ... you ain't just kiddin', babe," etc., etc.) I'm shakily proceeding on my way when someone yells "Smoke", someone else grabs me, and I'm off .. hurtled out of the room certain that the highly explosive dope has exploded and we're on our way to or from a fire .. but no .. it's merely what would be recess time in my language, Everyone from several departments conveniently collapses on a marked-off area on the bricked floor, has a cigarette, chews candy, downs a bottle of coke, and carries on, maybe talking, maybe a winking acquaintance with a likely-looking someone. Then a buzz ten minutes, and it's back to the post, Two hours later, and supper buzzers ring. It may be midnight, but we grab our lunch pall, and tear into a regular meal, not a mere snack. The cafeteria hums with the juke box, and the latest gossip about the fellow in jigs, or the blond babe in the covering department.

After a few nights everybody's business is yours, and maybe yours is theirs...only I hope that I convincingly squelched that rumor about S. T.ing. If they all weren't so curious. Usual question: "How many time you been married, Huh?" (Whew! And me still in hopes one man will come along!) "No kids, then? ... I got six, seventh on the way. Ya like the work? Shore, I do...I was on relief in '33. Now I'm makin' over a hundred a week, but the wife is sticking it away this time ... only she's mad with me tonight. Went over the bridge last night ... won't dare do that again for awhile ... but a man has to have a fling now and then .. ain't it so?" (Over the bridge is a path straight to a joint where checks are cashed and the money liquidated for the night shift.) Chief subject of conversation during the night ... "Are you, or aren't you, going across come four thirty?)." Yes, Friday is pay night, and the pay in good ... but everybody's broke again before the next Thursday ... and strictly off the record is a little matter of the paint shop jack pot. Everyone puts in a dollar and the numbered check with the beat poker hand (Poker always was a mystery to me) wins ... usually sixteen or eighteen dollars. Makes Friday night a red letter night for someone.

C4-GA Glider

A CG-4A in the Normandy landing paint scheme. The CG-4A was the most widely used U.S. troop/cargo glider of WWII. Flight testing began in 1942 and eventually more than 12,000 CG-4As were procured. Fifteen companies manufactured CG-4As, with 1,074 built by the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio.

The CG-4A was constructed of fabric-covered wood and metal and was crewed by a pilot and copilot. It could carry 13 troops and their equipment or either a jeep, a quarter-ton truck, or a 75mm howitzer loaded through the upward-hinged nose section. (USAF Museum)

Ah me I'm already involved in a nightly heckling Levi, the patch and rework man, over politics. He thinks the world is coming to an end, shortly, too,  and I want it to last a little longer so we collect evidence, and I wonder who'll I exchange ideas with Ella on raising a famly...she has three girls... (have to watch my S. T. tendencies here), talk about Don in the Pacific with Winnie whose husband is there, hear about Alaska from Ben who was with the Merchant Marine there not so long ago ... He came home because a policeman killed his buddy while they were on a toot in Now Orleans. He beat up on the policeman..they socked him in jail...and he missed his boat...besides his wife was having a baby so he figured to hit K.C. for a while, and admire Gertie who in a hair dresser, and is saving money to have a shop of her own when it's over.

"When it's over." Those words are heard often. Ella will be glad to go back to darning socks, Winnie will start raising a family (I'd like to see It .. her husband has red, curly hair, she says), Jeanie go back to her husband and baby, Levi hang out his shingle again saying painter and paper hanger, but the thrill of being part of a vast concerted fight for freedom will be a memory, too not easily forgotten.

I won't wait until it's over to go beck...because when school bells ring I want to go back to the job that is first with me. But I'm going to know a thing or two about gliders with their elevators, rudders, ailerons, fuselages, inboard and outboard wings, to compete with my first graders who know all about B-24s. And I'm going to have some new appreciations of work that is just as important as and people that live and love and work in a different kind of atmosphere. I'll never smell nail polish remover again that it doesn't recall the vision of grinding machines, flying sparks, whirling lathes, misty pain, gooey dope, end the quietness of dawn going home before the city is awake.