There is little doubt that the enormous weapons manufacturing advantage which the Allies possessed, particularly in North America, made victory over the Axis Powers possible during WWII. Key components to this success were the highly skilled factory workers, many of whom were women. Known affectionately as ‘Rosies’, due to the wartime advertising campaign featuring images of “Rosie the Riveter” at work with her rivet gun, these women employed their newly-honed skills to great effect. One such ‘Rosie’ is a woman named Mary Lou White who, at the age of 18, moved to Kansas City in 1944 to find work in the aviation industry. Mary Lou had learned the art of soldering at a young age, taught by her father, and put these skills to good use at the North American Aviation plant in Fairfax, Kansas where she became adept at wiring up B-25 Mitchell instrument panels.
Now in her late 90’s, Mary Lou reconnected with her past on Sunday, March 6th, 2022 when the B-25 History Project surprised her with one of the most historically accurate B-25 instrument panel restorations in existence. Built up by Patrick Mihalek and youth volunteers at the Warbirds of Glory Museum who are rebuilding B-25J 44-30733 – aka the Sandbar Mitchell – the panel is dedicated to her work at the plant. The configuration of this panel involved detailed research to match it with the panels she would have helped build during her time with North American Aviation. Subtle modifications were made to this panel to match the eight-gun nose restoration which the B-25 History Project currently has underway.
The surprises didn’t stop there, however, as Patrick Mihalek also revealed the equally impressive early B-25J model instrument panel his team will use on the Sandbar Mitchell itself. Patrick then asked Mary if she would do the honors by soldering some of the wiring for that panel, which will eventually take to the skies again.
Dr. Dan Desko, founder and CEO of the B-25 History Project, helped organize this event with Mary Lou, noting: “It’s important that we recognize and learn from the lessons of the past. As we honor each individual story, we are reminded of how the world came together those 80 years ago to defend democracy. This is a lesson that is still important today.”
Patrick Mihalek added: “It was important to us that Mary was a part of this restoration. She wasn’t able to come to Michigan to work on Sandbar, so we brought Sandbar to her.”
Commenting on her experience reliving her days as a Rosie working on B-25s, Mary Lou stated in a recent facebook post: “Memories of 1944… I helped build the Sandbar Mitchell B25…soldered the wiress on the instrument panel…and today I had the honor of of soldering the wires on this new instrument panel that will be installed in the Sandbar Mitchell as she is being restored……My emotions are running high!”
This is the first of several planned efforts which the B-25 History Project’s co-founder, Jim Stella, is leading to combine world-class restorations with the stories of the factory workers who built B-25s during the war. As part of this process, they will develop STEM programs to help inspire and educate.
While such gestures of recognition could never convey enough of the gratitude which we all owe the unsung heroes of WWII, and Mary Lou White is certainly one of these heroes, they are still significant moments… and how marvelous is it to have a genuine Rosie contribute to rebuilding a B-25 for future generations? Bravo to all involved!