South Tahoe ‘Rosie the Riveter’ reflects on WWII |

South Tahoe ‘Rosie the Riveter’ reflects on WWII

Axie Navas
Betty McNeer with a model of the P-38 figher-bomber she worked on. Axie Navas / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Looking back 70 years into the past, Betty McNeer is always amazed by just how much women accomplished during World War II.

The 88-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident would know. She worked on the P-38 Lightning during the war, riveting the left wings of the twin-engine fighter-bomber planes.

“We didn’t think about liking it. We just went in there and said, ‘We need to do it,’” McNeer said. “Women did tremendous amounts of work during that time.”

McNeer was 18 years old when she started working for the Northrop Aircraft factory outside of Los Angeles, Calif. She’d discussed the work with her sister, Dorothy, and neighbor Lois Savage, and the trio decided to start the nine-hour shifts together.

McNeer remembers the day the war ended in 1945. She’d stepped into the factory’s bathroom and when she came out everyone had disappeared. When she asked where all the employees had gone, she learned the war was over and the women were celebrating at the liquor store down the street.

McNeer moved to South Lake Tahoe 12 years after that fateful day, shortly after her daughter died of a brain tumor. McNeer often camped at Twin Lakes, passing though South Lake Tahoe for a hot shower and to go to church.

She wanted to find a spot as beautiful as her hometown in southern California, where she’d watched the jets fly in over the coast every 14 minutes. South Lake Tahoe fit the bill.

Earlier this year, McNeer learned about a magazine’s quest to find the women who’d worked during World War II. Those Rosie the Riveters set the modern-day women’s movement in motion and increased the number of women in the workplace by 6 million, according to the magazine, Reminisce.

“They were looking for Rosie the Riveters. And there aren’t many of us left,” she said. “It’s like starting all over again. You think about all the places you went, all the things you did.”

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