GFWC Rosie – Jennifer Marie Conaway McMullen
May 24, 2017
By Jennifer Marie Conaway McMullen
Born on October 22, 1924 in Ohio, I attended local schools and worked as a legal secretary until my family relocated to Arizona in 1943. While working in accounting and helping out in my family’s café in Tempe, Arizona, as an 18-year old, I met a number of airmen from the surrounding airfields, one of whom was named McMullen. He often said to me “You should meet my younger brother, you’d be good together.” The following summer, one of my co-workers who was a cousin of Gene Kelly, the movie star, said he and his family were travelling to Hollywood to visit Gene and asked me to come along, so I took a chance and traveled to California.
After a few days in a Los Angeles hotel, I went to Eagle Rock, California to stay with an acquaintance, who lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a friend. My new roommates both worked in the office at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California. After interviewing at Lockheed, I was hired as a riveter in their aircraft factory. The entire area was camouflaged under a very large burlap tarp painted with homes, trees, even fire hydrants to depict a scene of suburban life.
Housing was at a premium and we had to share the two twin beds in a small apartment in Eagle Rock, which worked out fine as they worked the day shift and I worked the graveyard shift from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. We all worked seven days a week.
I initially began my job bucking rivets and later moved up to being the riveter. For safety reasons all women were required to wear a scarf tied over their hair. We worked mainly on sections of airplanes. One of the planes was top secret, and we never viewed the plane in its entirety. I later learned it was the one and only Lockheed XP58 Chain Lightning, a long range fighter plane. The paycheck was good for the time and I used it wisely as I was entirely on my own. The majority of my co-workers were women, a few older men, and soldiers who worked during their military leave. The women worked on large presses as well as using rivet guns in the area where I was stationed.
I was happy to be working at a defense plant to help the war effort, as my two brothers were in the service, the elder in the South Pacific and the younger in France and Belgium. I was very fortunate that they both came home safely at the end of the war.
After working as a riveter for about seven months, I obtained a job in Los Angeles as a legal secretary and therefore left my Lockheed job and had to acquire new lodgings. Since I was still in contact with that young McMullen pilot, he suggested that I contact his mother as she had an empty bedroom since his younger brother was away in the Air Corps. So that worked out well, his mother and I became good friends, and when the war ended I was on the streets of Los Angeles amongst all the hugging and kissing that you see depicted in photos of that time. It was indeed a joyous day!
Shortly thereafter in November, 1945, came the glorious day when the younger McMullen brother Mel arrived home from the China-Burma-India Theater of war and while not quite love at first sight, within six weeks we were engaged. Meanwhile my best girlfriend from Ohio had come to share my bedroom and when the older McMullen brother Jim came home on leave, they fell in love and before he was sent to Okinawa after the war, he proposed. So we ended up having a double wedding at the Air Force base in Salt Lake City, Utah on May 13, 1946. The brothers always joked that they had to marry the Ohio girls to get their bedroom back. While we lost my brother-in-law and wife some years ago, life is still a joy for Mel and me as we head into our 72nd year of merry matrimony.
We have had a great life together, reared three sons who are talented and live successful, comfortable lives. They have also given us four good-looking grandchildren.
I am a proud member of the American Rosie the Riveter Association and the Women’s Club of San Bernardino (California).
An eight-year Air Force veteran, Penny has been a GFWC member since 2008, and is currently serving as the club president of GFWC Helena Woman’s Club (Montana).
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