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Rosie The Riveter's World War II-Era Plant Faces Demolition

Just two days and $1 million stands between the wrecking ball and the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti Township, Mich.
Paul Sancya
Just two days and $1 million stands between the wrecking ball and the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti Township, Mich.

We told you last year about the uncertain future of the Michigan factory where the iconic Rosie the Riveter and thousands of other women built B-24 bombers during World War II. Sadly, it could be the end of the road for the Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti Township.

The Associated Press reports Tuesday:

"All that stands between her old plant and the wrecking ball is two days and $1 million.

"A group trying to save a slice of the factory west of Detroit raised $7 million, but it needs $8 million and has until Thursday to make that happen. If the Save the Bomber Plant campaign fails, a piece of U.S. history will be lost forever."

Loraine Osborne, one of the many riveters who worked at the factory, said that would be a shame.

"It should be taken care of so that everybody — our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren — can enjoy it as the years go by," she told the AP.

Osborne and thousands of others built 8,685 B-24 Liberators in all. She and the others lived in government housing near the plant, which was built by the Ford Motor Co. In a story for All Things Consideredlast year, Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton described the factory:

"The huge hangar doors on the old Willow Run assembly plant are majestic in proportion. Thirty-two feet tall and 150 feet wide; the doors were built big so that finished B-24 bombers could roll out of the factory, then tested on the site's airport runway, before going to war. ...

"Inside the dark factory, an intense smell of dampness and oil rises from the floor, which is still littered with old equipment and castoff work gloves.

"For decades, the former Ford bomber plant turned out cars for GM. But with GM's bankruptcy came a trust fund to find new developers to sites like this."

The original Rosie the Riveter was a 17-year-old bandana-clad girl named Geraldine Hoff Doyle. Doyle, who died in 2010, didn't realize that a photo of her taken by a photographer from United Press International in 1941 played a role in the Rosie phenomenon.

The Willow Run factory is being torn down, the AP notes, to make way for a vehicle research center. But the Save the Bomber campaign wants to preserve the space and convert it into a home for the Yankee Air Museum.

"Time is really short on this," Dennis Norton, the president of the Michigan Aerospace Foundation, told the AP. "We need people to help, but I honestly think we're going to make it."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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