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WWII riveter reminiscences with Airmen

Connie Palacioz, a riveter during World War II, left, talks with Senior Airman Ciarra White, 22nd Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, July 20, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Palacioz was only 17 when she started working as a riveter at Boeing’s plant in Wichita, Kan., riveting the cockpits of B-29 Superfortresses. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Connie Palacioz, a riveter during World War II, left, talks with Senior Airman Ciarra White, 22nd Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, July 20, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Palacioz was only 17 when she started working as a riveter at Boeing’s plant in Wichita, Kan., riveting the cockpits of B-29 Superfortresses. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Connie Palacioz, a riveter during World War II, examines a rivet, July 20, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Palacoiz recently visited the base sheet metal shop where she learned about the mission of the shop and about the job of aircraft structural maintenance Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Connie Palacioz, a riveter during World War II, examines a rivet, July 20, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Palacoiz recently visited the base sheet metal shop where she learned about the mission of the shop and about the job of aircraft structural maintenance Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Master Sgt. Elizabeth Sarabia, 931st Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance section chief, left, and Senior Airman Ciarra White, 22nd Maintenance Squadron ASM journeyman, right, pose with Connie Palacioz, a riveter during World War II, July 20, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Palacioz recently visited the base sheet metal shop where she received a tour and spoke with Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Master Sgt. Elizabeth Sarabia, 931st Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance section chief, left, and Senior Airman Ciarra White, 22nd Maintenance Squadron ASM journeyman, right, pose with Connie Palacioz, a riveter during World War II, July 20, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Palacioz recently visited the base sheet metal shop where she received a tour and spoke with Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- A woman wearing a polka-dot bandana, rolled up sleeves and fierce red lipstick on a poster was the call to aid. With the men fighting overseas during World War II, it was all hands on deck. Thousands of women stormed into factories to answer the call and fill the gap.

Rosie the Riveter, as she was called, became the face of the working gals of the 1940s—riveting aircraft together at lightning speeds. Rosie was one of the early narratives of women serving their nation and the heritage of many Airmen who still do the same mission.

Nowadays, these Airmen not only rivet, but here at McConnell, they maintain the whole sheet metal structure of the KC-135 Stratotanker. Maintenance Airmen do an array of aircraft metal repairs, from fabricating new parts to replacing existing hardware.

“I get to work on aircraft, and it’s amazing; not many people get to say they do that,” said Senior Airman Ciarra White, 22nd MXS ASM journeyman. “When I step back from the aircraft and look at my work, I know I did it well, and I’m proud of it.”

It’s that sensation of pride that grasps riveters like White, who recently had the opportunity to meet with an individual who was directly part of that history. Connie Palacioz, a riveter for Boeing during World War II, visited the McConnell sheet metal shop and spent some time touring the floor and reminiscing with Airmen.

Palacioz was only 17 when she first started as a riveter at Boeing’s plant in Wichita, Kansas, riveting the cockpits of B-29 Superfortresses for the war effort.

“I enjoyed my job very much,” said Palacioz. “My favorite part was when the inspectors used to tells us, ‘It’s all clear, you passed the exam.’ That’s what really made us feel good, because we could go to the next plane and start again.”

While visiting the sheet metal shop here, Palacioz learned about new types of riveting ASM Airmen do here for the around-the-clock mission of the KC-135.

Although some of the processes have changed over the years, classic riveting hasn’t really changed. Two Airmen still have to climb inside the aircraft, like Palacioz did more than 70 years ago, to set and buck the rivet.

“Being able to meet Connie was such a great experience; she was a pistol,” said White. “My favorite part was definitely seeing Connie reminisce as she saw all of the familiar tools and hardware we use for our job. Talking with her really made me appreciate the work they did back then.”

Even at 91, Palacioz still volunteers—working on the same aircraft she originally riveted at Boeing in the 1940s. Doc, a B-29, recently took its first flight in more than 60 years here July, while Palacioz watched from the flightline.

Whether it’s the B-29 or the KC-135, keeping a well maintained fleet of aircraft is a task riveters have been taking on for many years. And although improvements have been made over the years, the objective has not changed—making sure the Air Force is completely mission capable.

“[Back then] we wanted to get that war done, we all had family members in the service we wanted back,” said Palacioz. “I get very emotional when I see my work on an aircraft, because I remember everyone who worked there. Now they’re not here, but I still have satisfaction knowing my work is still there.”

The riveters who worked in the factories during the war labored many hours towards the war effort, and years later, women like Palacioz are still proud of the work they did for their country and of the Airmen who carry on this legacy.

“I think girls in the military are really brave,” said Palacioz. “I wish I could have had the opportunity to go in, but I think it’s wonderful that these young girls do their part just like we did ours.”