By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — After the United States entered World War II in 1941, stateside manpower in factories and war production plants across the country fell flat. Using advice from the War Advertising Counsel, the U.S. government sought the service of its young women to fill these gaps.
“That little frail can do more than a male will do,” and other lyrics from the hit 1942 song, Rosie the Riveter, inspired young women from across the U.S. to step out of their homes and fill the roles their fathers, husbands, brothers left behind to fight the war. One of these inspired women, third-generation Coloradan Charlotte Clark Summers, worked for years as a mechanic on the flightline of the former Colorado Springs Army Air Base.
“I was born on a farm clear out in northeastern Colorado,” said Summers. “Out on the farm you either fixed it or you didn’t have it.”
Summers, who is now 94 years old, was raised in rural Colorado, where the hands-on life came naturally.
Well before the age of the how-to videos, Summers’ resourcefulness was built from necessity.
“I had messed around on the farm and learned more or less the basics of being a mechanic,” said Summers. “You did it by feel and sight and whatever it needed. It was just a natural thing for me.”
Armed with a keen sense of know-how and a work ethic that wouldn’t stop, Summers and her sister moved to Colorado Springs in the early 1940s, when she discovered an ad for airplane mechanics in the local paper.
“When the war broke out I went to school to learn to be a mechanic,” said Summers. “They sent me down here and that’s when I went to work at Colorado Springs airfield.”
Summers said that although the airport was small and riddled with weeds, the constant traffic of planes kept her moving.
“I worked on the propellers for years,” said Summers. “You had planes coming in with big ol’ nicks in their props. You had to smooth the nicks out of the props and sand them down so they could take off again.”
While Summers never complained about the tedious task of re-finishing wooden propellers, she agreed that the advent of metal propellers made life much easier.
Although her primary responsibility was getting planes off the ground and back in the air, Summers could do it all.
“I worked eight hours every day, regardless of what I was doing,” said Summers. “I worked as a ‘handy-man;’ they thought I was pretty smart to know a screw from a nail.”
Summers said that long days under the southern Colorado sun kept her busy, and the grease and dust stained coveralls she wore proved that fact.
Life on the farm had taught her to give her all and Summers proudly served until shortly after the war ended.
“I went to work every day, said Summers. “I was a born farmer I guess.”
(March is Women’s History Month. For more stories in the impact women have had on the military, go to www.af.mil and click on Women’s History Month.)