Glenwood Woman packed parachutes during World War II
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. The mythical Rosie the Riveter helped build the planes that took U.S. troops skyward during World War II. Carol Christenson made sure the men jumping out of them had a soft landing. Christenson, 85, now lives at Grace Healthcare of Glenwood Springs, formerly Glen Valley nursing home. During World War II, she worked at the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, packing parachutes for the military.It wasn’t a responsibility she took lightly. Christenson put in a lot of practice before packing any chutes for actual use.”I packed about 47 before I let one go,” Christenson said.Her daughter, Judy Austin of New Castle, said her mom was part of that generation of young women recruited to fill jobs to support the war effort when many men were off fighting. The government conducted a marketing campaign featuring Rosie the Riveter to help fill factory positions.Christenson’s work during the war helped lead to an opportunity for her in another area that was mostly dominated by men at that time: She took flying lessons.Taking things a step further, she joined in buying a plane after the war.”There were five guys and they were going to buy this PT-19 airplane. They needed one more person. I said, ‘take me,'” she said.Her daughter explained, “What those were, were training planes to train pilots for the war. When the war ended you could buy one practically for nothing.”
“My favorite story about that is she sold her part of the plane to get married. They took that money to get five lots in Denver and that’s where Mom and Dad built their house and raised three kids,” Austin said.Christenson helped maintain the plane.”She always said that she got the back end of the plane because I guess she was the person who had to take care of the gas,” Austin said.Christenson loved flying in the mountains. But she lived her entire life in Denver until moving to Glenwood Springs two years ago.”I always wanted to come to the mountains,” Christenson said as she gazed out her bedroom window west to Red Mountain during an interview this week. “I’m finally here. I think I’ll stay a while.”Christenson spoke with a glint of humor in her eyes, smiling an ever-present smile. Today she is confined to a walker, is beset by bad knees and breathes with supplemental oxygen. But pictures of horses on her walls serve as reminders of a woman who lived the active life of a tomboy. She loved riding both horses and bicycles, not to mention airplanes.If not for her father’s discouragement, she might have pursued another passion, too. Rudolph Pigeon had worked before her birth as “Shorty Maynard,” a clown in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and other major circuses.”I have a clown suit yet that my grandmother made for him,” Christenson said.Pigeon later went to work as a clerk in for the Swift meatpacking company, but he would tell his daughter about his circus days. However, he also told her he didn’t think that was such a good idea when she talked about joining the circus herself.
“I always liked to do things like that. I did tricks on a bar and different things,” she said.Christenson found other outlets for her love of physical activity. She bicycled from an early age until about a decade ago, when her knees gave out. Growing up, she was picky about her choice of bike.”My brother got me one for $37 but I always wanted a silver one so I saved a dollar a week,” she said.She bought her silver bike.Christenson pursued her love of biking during the war, including when she worked for a time at an air base in Tacoma, Wash.”She was the only woman that was riding a bike at that time,” Austin said. “They would send her on her bike all the way across (the base) to get parts for planes.”Christenson’s husband, Paul, was a blade operator for a construction company and died in 1999. Their son David still lives in Denver. Another son, Danny, died unexpectedly of health problems about three years ago, while in his 40s.Christenson was a social worker and often brought home people in need of help, Austin said. She also loved to have dogs, cats, horses and other animals around. To this day, she sorrowfully recalls losing one dog that went missing in the mountains. The family was active in 4-H when the kids were growing up. Austin said she was fortunate to be raised in a home where both parents told their kids they could do anything if they put their minds to it.
When she was 80 – too old to be able to drive – Christenson also proved that once someone learns to do something, it’s hard to forget. Austin had a friend who flew a dual-control plane used for student instruction. It was similar to Christenson’s PT-19.”She took my mom up and let her fly for a short amount of time and she said even at 80 she did not forget how to fly,” Austin said.”I told her, ‘They said you couldn’t drive but they never said you couldn’t fly.'”She knew all the gauges, she asked all the appropriate questions, she never forgot how to do it.”Just like with riding a bike – or maybe even packing a parachute.Contact Dennis Webb: email@example.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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