Doris Mitchell and Don Bluhm were fresh out of high school in Belleville, Mich., when they went to work at Ford Motor Co.'s new Willow Run bomber plant in early 1942.
Initially they were mere acquaintances, but over time they would build something longer lasting than even the durable B-24 Liberator bombers the plant produced.
They celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary last December.
And the factory that brought them together and provided them with a lifetime of vivid memories remains a part of their family. Their son, Ron Bluhm, is the historian for the plant, now a part of General Motors Powertrain Division.
Don worked at the site even before the bomber plant was built.
As a high school student in 1940 and 1941, he participated in Henry Ford's summer camps along Willow Run Creek and earned $2 a day working in the soybean and produce fields.
"While we farmed the land at Willow Run during the summer, the factory was being built," says Bluhm, 79. "We watched the factory rising from the land that we were literally farming."
Henry Ford visited the site regularly and chatted with his young hands, Bluhm recalls.
Bluhm's feelings about the summer of 1941: "It was monumental. We felt quite honored, to be honest with you."
Once the plant was up and running, Don went to work cutting sections of cloth, in layers 50 deep. The trimmed pieces of fabric, sewn into envelope shapes, were stretched over aluminum frames to form the movable surfaces of the airplane, such as the ailerons, flaps and rudders. On an aircraft, those panels are adjusted to change a plane's altitude and direction. The cloth surfaces were coated with a compound that made them rigid yet kept them light.
Doris, an expert with a needle, sewed pieces of fabric together. She also taught young airmen how to make repairs to panels damaged in combat or service.
Don stayed at Willow Run until February 1943, when he was drafted and entered the Army Air Corps. Occasionally he trained on
B-24s and checked each plane's tag to see whether he and his coworkers at Willow Run had built it.
During a leave in December 1943, he and Doris were married.
Don, busy becoming qualified as a bombardier, pilot and engineer, spent many months in training, mostly in Texas. Before he could be sent into combat, the United States used its atomic bombs on Japan, and the war ended in August 1945.
Soldiers coming home had 90 days in which to decide whether they wanted jobs with
their former employers, Don says. He was given a chance to operate a lift at a Ford foundry in the Rouge complex. On the 88th day, he decided he liked working outside. He took a job with Detroit Edison, where he stayed for 40 years. He also collected old cars, including a 1928 Model A Ford.
Doris had an offer to work in an upholstery shop but became a homemaker.
They still live in Belleville, southwest of Detroit.
Life on the line
Among the Willow Run memories:
Don says there was no Occupational Safety and Health Administration then, so people did things that would be considered far too risky now - such as using high-powered saws with no safety gear to cut the airplane fabric. Some workers were injured, he says. And the compound used to make the cloth panels rigid emitted powerful fumes. Shifts were 10 hours, sometimes 12.
He also recalls that dwarfs were hired to go inside cramped parts of the airplane bodies to "buck" the rivets; that is, to hold a hard surface against the point of each rivet being inserted from the outside so that it would fasten.
Doris remembers long hours but also recalls enjoying the work.