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5 questions with Connie Palacioz

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at 10:13 p.m.

Call her Connie the Riveter.

In 1943, Connie Palacioz was a recent high school graduate working in a Newton laundry facility when she decided to help the war effort by going to work at Boeing.

She became a riveter, but Palacioz says she never heard about Rosie the Riveter – the generic name given to women who worked at factories in World War II – until the end of the war.

Palacioz says she enjoyed her job, liked that she was helping the country and was disappointed when she was laid off. She says she missed her job at first.

“They just laid (off) a lot of us. After the war a lot of the veterans got their jobs back,” Palacioz said. “I got married, and then I kind of lost interest.”

She ended up being a hairdresser for almost 50 years and left riveting behind.

“I never thought I would come back.”

Then more than a decade ago, Palacioz read in The Eagle that volunteers were needed to help restore “Doc,” a vintage B-29 bomber that was built by Boeing Wichita, and she decided to help.

The 88-year-old also volunteers at her church and a school.

Q. How did you become a riveter?

A. I heard on the radio and the paper that … they needed some help at Boeing. … I said I didn’t know what I could do. … They said, “Well, we have a school, and you can go there, and when you get ready, we’ll send you to the plant.” … They said, oh, they could use riveters, and I said, “Oh, I’ll try that.” … It was just something different that I had never done before then. The pay was better than laundry, the 25 cents.

Q. Your boss approached you with an idea early on, right?

A. (He said,) “We have a young lady, but nobody wants to work with her.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Well, she’s black.” … I said to him, “Well, I don’t mind working … with her because I’m also a minority. I’m Mexican.” … We became really a good team. … I mean, she was good. We became such a pair. … She was so good that all her rivets were the same. A lot of (coworkers) wanted her … and I said, “No.” We just wouldn’t part. We just stayed together.

Q. Why did you enjoy riveting so much?

A. It was because of the war effort. On the radio, there used to always be the Tokyo Rose. We could hear on the radio … she was trying to say (awful) kinds of things … so our boys, their morale would break. … When I would hear her, I would just say, “We’re gonna show you.” … I knew I was doing something that was going to help us win the war.

Q. How is it working on Doc now?

A. It’s different. Very different. … When they first brought the plane … it came in parts. All I did was pick up pieces of the plane. … There was about 350 switches, and I cleaned all the switches that are in that plane. I cleaned and polished them. I spent about four months doing that. … They tried to put (in) as many as they could that were workable. That’s why I have so much interest in that plane. … I saw it come from the desert looking like nothing, and now look at how pretty that is.

Q. How do you manage helping with Doc and all your volunteer work?

A. I feel very great that I can do it at my age. … The Lord has really blessed me with my health.

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.

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