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On 90th birthday, woman shares memories working for the war effort at Fairchild

Catherine "Katie" Pitts was one of many women hired for traditional male jobs while the men were in the service

January 20, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Catherine Pitts holds a newspaper photograph that shows her working at Fairchild Industries. Pitts was was one of many women hired for traditional male jobs while the men were in the service during World War II.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Her first name might be Catherine, but she earned the name of Rosie — as in Rosie the Riveter.

Catherine "Katie" Pitts turned 90 on Dec. 29, 2010. The milestone was celebrated with friends and family at Julia Manor in Hagerstown, where she has lived for almost four years.

As she shared stories of her life, one of great significance revolved around the years she worked at Fairchild Industries. After seeing the classified advertisement in 1942, she was one of many women hired for traditional male jobs while the men were in the service during World War II.

Pitts, whose maiden name was Slick, worked for Fairchild for about a decade, bolting seats into C-82 cargo planes during the war. After the war, she helped construct C-119s, also known as the "Flying Boxcar," by gluing fabric to wooden wing frames. Her job then shifted to riveting the wings once they were made of sheet metal.

She was in her early 20s the first time she worked at Fairchild and didn't realize she was working for the war effort until later.

"I loved it. I could go back to it now, but I can't walk," Pitts said.

Shelly Beatty, activities director at Julia Manor, said she overheard Pitts telling fellow residents in the beauty parlor that the side panels and wings that she worked on never fell off.

Pitts also worked at Fairchild on the A-10 jet aircraft for about five years until the plant closed.

Then she got a job at Hagerstown Bookbinding & Printing, before volunteering at Washington County Free Library until she was 76.

Her daughter, Karen Carter, is proud of her mother's legacy.

"I just want everybody to know her like I know her. She's been through a lot. She's a breast cancer survivor and overcame abuse growing up. There's something else there. It's not just some old lady sitting in a wheelchair," Carter said.

Carter, who lives in Martinsburg, W.Va., is the youngest of Pitts' five biological children. She had her oldest two sons with her first husband, then three more children with her second husband, Bill Pitts.

The couple also raised Bill's three children from his first marriage.

"She had her hands full .... She treated everybody the same. They all called her 'Mom,'" Carter said.

As she reflects on her mother's life, Carter said her mother can always be counted on for a smile and positive attitude.

"I think she's a wonderful person. She gives of herself to everybody," Carter said.

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