Monday, June 16, 2014

Woman, 92, who helped build P-47s takes front stage at air show

92-year-old Geraldine “Gerry” McFadin had a front-row view of Sunday’s ShrinersFest final air show where a pair of Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft soared over the Ohio River. 

McFadin, for 16 months in the 1940s, worked on the assembly line of the old Republic Aviation plant in Evansville, building thousands of Thunderbolts for the war effort.

Seventy years off the assembly line, it was the first time she’d seen the planes gliding in real life.

“I felt very small when I saw the beautiful planes,” McFadin said.

She was a real life Rosie the Riveter, only instead of doing the riveting, she did the “bucking,” because she was a “scrawny” and her long arms could reach places others couldn’t.

America’s involvement war, indirectly, led her to the temporary job at the plane factory.

After graduating high school, she landed a scholarship for an art academy in Indianapolis. While upstate, however, the owner of the academy, a major in the National Guard, was called to action, leaving her without school.

“So I came home, nothing to do,” she said. Her grandparents lived in Evansville, where she learned of an opportunity to work at the Republic Aviation plant, the site of the former Whirlpool Corp. factory.

She worked ten hours a day, earning 60 cents an hour — which adjusted for inflation is roughly $8.70 now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

McFadin hadn’t planned to come to ShrinersFest Sunday, but a fellow churchgoer, Don Viviano, helped arrange for to see the P-47s in action. And festival organizers made sure she had a front and center view for the air show.

She brought along with her, her first and last pay stubs from Republic, a tax form, a certificate from Republic and a single cherry rivet used in the production of the fuselage of the planes.

She intends to donate her materials to the Freedom Heritage Museum when it comes to full fruition.

Rob Reider, the announcer for the ShrinersFest air show, repeatedly thanked McFadin during the afternoon demonstrations. Throughout the event, people came up and thanked her for her part in the war effort.

“People are so just wonderful. I love them ... It makes me feel wonderful, like I really did something,” she said.

Sunday’s air show, chock full of skilled aviators, brought a larger than normal closing day, said ShrinersFest spokesman Dale Thomas.

For the weekend, organizers estimate 70,000 people came to the festival, with an estimated 30,000 people on Saturday alone.

The cool, storm-free weather and the high-profile D-Day re-enactment and air shows bolstered attendance, Thomas said.

“Mother nature, if I can giver her a shout out, she gave us a great weekend. She wasn’t so good to us last year,” Thomas said.

Last year, storms effectively shutdown half of the festival’s weekend. The P-47 Thunderbolts couldn’t even manage to get through the storm, forcing them to cancel.

“I think this is great for Evansville,” Thomas said of the air show and re-enactment. “Evansville’s role in the war effort was huge.”

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