Bellevue’s own ‘Rosie the Riveter’ remembers WWII

At 4 feet, ll-inches tall and nearly 90 years old, Pearl Hinze remembers a time when she could pound a pretty mean rivet. On a recent afternoon, she sat in her Bellevue living room and recalled when she worked in the tail turret of a Boeing B-17 military aircraft during World War II.

World War II bucker and riveter shares experience

At 4 feet, ll-inches tall and nearly 90 years old, Pearl Hinze remembers a time when she could pound a pretty mean rivet.

On a recent afternoon, she sat in her Bellevue living room and recalled when she worked in the tail turret of a Boeing B-17 military aircraft during World War II.

It was 1943 when Hinze, then 24, was called to duty. She was working in a private home in her Iowa hometown for $8 a week.

Her aunt who lived in Seattle called her and said, “’Well, why don’t you come out to Washington because Boeing is begging for help,’ It was wartime,” Hinze said.

She and a friend took a train and got to Seattle right before Thanksgiving. On Monday morning, they went downtown to find work. Nothing was open, except The Boeing Company.

“So we got in there and we never got out of there,” she recalled. “They just pushed us right through and we came out Boeing buckers.”

They joined the millions of women who entered the workforce for the first time during World War II to replace male workers who had gone off to fight in the war.

Hinze was assigned to work the swing shift in the tail turret of a Boeing B-17 and her friend worked nearby. Workers had to wear slacks and keep their hair covered so it would not get caught in the machinery.

The metal bucking bars were heavy, she explained. She would hold the bar against the “bucktail” of the rivet, a mechanical fastener, while a riveter would use a rivet gun to drive the head of the rivet through a hole.

“If the riveter didn’t hit it right, it went right through the middle of the bar and they had to repair it,” she said, adding that those instances happened quite often. “Everybody was brand new and we were a bunch of women who didn’t know much about that and older men who were too old to go into the service.”

Once she became a riveter herself, she was transferred to the wings where it was noisy. One day she was applying a frozen rivet and drove it through the bucking bar so hard that it took an entire day to repair the bar.

Despite the mishaps and noise, Hinze did enjoy a bigger paycheck. She was paid about 63 cents an hour, plus an additional 5 cents for working the swing shift, about $30 a week.

After a year at Boeing, Hinze quit and went back to Iowa for a month of vacation. When she came back to Seattle, she continued her military service on Pier 91 where she drove an electric truck. She filled all kinds of orders for the ships: mattresses, uniforms, underwear and socks.

“The thing that impressed me were the shoes,” she recalled. “We had scads of shoes; everyone who went in the service got a new pair.”

She worked as a driver until the end of the war and when it ended, “they let us go right away,” she said. “And all of those mattresses that we had hauled out a few days earlier, they all came back from whatever ship they were supposed to go to and I often wondered what they did with them.”

Now retired after 40 years with Puget Sound Power Company, Hinze has had some time to reflect on her war experience.

Those who were able to work in defense did - and that was it, she said.

But there was still a hint of pride that flashed in her eyes as she thought about it.

“I don’t know, maybe I could still push in those rivets still,” she said, flexing her arm. “Yeah, I bet I could.”

Carrie Wood can be reached at cwood@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4290.