Thursday, August 2, 2012

Virginia Ketcham

It has been a while since the last post, mainly because we have been very busy. But there is a bunch of new stuff that needs to be added. We have been to three events that have allowed us to present 'Attu Warrior' and the great job that Dave has done bringing her back to life.

First we went to Grangeville Idaho for their first airshow. Not only was it a lot of fun meeting the people from that part of the world, but we met a great lady who has a history with Lockheed aircraft.

93 year old Virginia Arnold-Ketcham came to visit us with some members of her family and showed us a scrapbook she had put together of her war-time experiences. We were pretty busy with the crowds looking at the plane, so we organized to visit with her after the show. What a treat that turned out to be.

Young Virginia in rural Idaho before the war.
In 1941, Virginia Arnold was a young rural school teacher in Norther Idaho. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she felt compelled to do more for the war effort than just teach school, so she asked her older sister to finish off the school year for her and then in February 1942 headed to California to see what she could do.

After applying three times at the Vega division of the Lockheed factory in Burbank and being rejected three times because she lacked the needed skills, Virginia attended the Aviation Training School where she learned the skills of riveting, blueprint reading and how to use calipers and other precision measuring tools. The course only lasted for one month, but while she was there the school found out she was a school teacher and so asked her to teach a math class to some of the students who were struggling in that area.

A test sheet of rivets that Virginia built 70 years ago.
After completing the course, she then reapplied to Vega and this time on her application included that she was an instructor at the Aviation Training School. She was hired immediately! Virginia was initially put to work riveting on aircraft fuselages, but soon she was moved to a logistical position making sure all the needed components and supplies were where they should be. Her organizational skills were recognized and her ability to read blueprints and accurately measure finished products soon led to her becoming an inspector which she did for the rest of the almost three years she worked at Vega.

C.H. "Bill" Ketcham was also from Idaho, and they had known each other before the war. He had also come down and worked for Lockheed, mostly as a jig builder and welder working on the Lockheed Hudson, one of the predecessors of the Harpoon. They both continued their service, eventually working aircraft and spare parts for P-38's, PV-1's and PV-2's with Virginia completing her time installing various finishing items on B-17's.

As the war wound down, Bill and Virginia married and then moved for a short time to Montana where Bill worked for the forest service. By the spring of 1945, they moved back to Grangeville where they started logging and then a sawmill business, a bank and other business ventures. In retirement they raised championship quarter horses and still have a couple of horses on the property.

Virginia's promotion to the rank of Colonel on the second front.
I asked Virginia if before the war she could ever imagine becoming a "Rosie the Riveter". She indicated that she had never even thought about it. How does a person from a small country town head off to the big city three states away to do something she has never even read about? Well, that was the dilemma that faced every member of the greatest generation, when they en-masse  answered the call to duty to promote the cause of freedom for not only our country but the whole world.

A great lady, Virginia Arnold-Ketcham wearing a necklace that features a P-38 mounted on a green stone. She normally wears it on St. Patrick's Day, but she thought that the airshow was also an appropriate time to wear it. I don't know too many elderly women who would wear a WWII fighter necklace, but then, Virginia is obviously no ordinary woman. Quiet, unassuming, but willing to sacrifice whatever it would take to do her part. Without women like Virginia, we would have had a lot less aircraft in the air. A true American Hero, and meeting her is yet again one of the reasons we love to do what we do!