Rifle’s ‘Rosie the Riveter’ helped build, then flew in World War II aircraft
Citizen Telegram Editor
Mae Liggett of Rifle not only helped build one of the United States’ most useful World War II aircraft. She got to take a ride in one.
Liggett recently celebrated her 90th birthday at the Rifle Senior Center, where she was surprised by friends and relatives.
One of her presents was a model of a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, the plane she helped put together during the war as one of the many “Rosie the Riveters.”
More than 6 million female workers helped build planes, bombs, tanks and other weapons during the war.
Liggett has lived in Rifle for 10 years, when she moved into a unit in the Rifle Senior Housing complex. Previously, Liggett lived in Glenwood Springs with her husband, Charles, for about 20 years. He died in a job-related accident in 1975.
Before then, the Liggetts were recreational vehicle park camp hosts in Boulder City, Nev.
Liggett met her future husband at Lowry Air Force base in Denver during the war, she said.
“I was working in a sub depot that helped furnish the planes,” Liggett added. “We met when he came in to pick up some parts.”
They married in 1943. Charles Liggett, a volunteer member of the Army Air Corps, was sent overseas for a time. When he returned they moved to Inglewood, Calif., where Mae Liggett started riveting.
“I didn’t use a riveting gun, but a riveting machine,” Liggett explained. “The cowling that goes over the engine on the P-51 would come down on a conveyor belt and stop, then I lined up the machine that would drive in the rivets.”
“I’d be standing on my feet for 10 hours a day, so they hurt,” she continued. “My dad said I shouldn’t worry. ‘You’re young, you’ll get used to it.’ It was tedious, but the pay was good. But that warehouse was cold in the winter, too. I didn’t think it would get cold in California in the winters, but it did.”
A transfer to what is now Edwards Air Force base followed, then Charles Liggett was discharged, and the couple moved back to Denver.
Mae Liggett’s chance to fly in what may have been one of the P-51s she worked on came after the 2006 air show at the Garfield County Regional Airport.
“They had a P-51, so I had to go,” Liggett recalled. “I met the pilot, Joe Thibodeau, who let me sit in the cockpit, and we visited. It turned out his plane was built in the same factory and same year I was riveting. So it may have been one I worked on.”
Thibodeau, a Front Range lawyer, invited Liggett to fly with him the next time she was in Denver. That trip came in 2008, when Liggett flew in a plane she likely riveted more than 60 years earlier.
“It was special,” Liggett said. “We flew from Centennial Airport, over the Air Force Academy. It was about a 45 minute flight. Just an exciting day.”
Her flight was the subject of a KUSA-TV news story, too.
“I don’t think I did anything any more special than all the women who worked in the shipyards, the factories and all the other places,” Liggett said.
Liggett’s aviation connection also includes meeting famous test pilot Chuck Yeager at a Denver air show “in the same hangar at Lowry where I met my husband,” she said.
Liggett’s father served in World War I and her son was sent to Thailand during the Vietnam War.
“I remember my dad saying World War I was going to end all wars,” Liggett recalled. “But they just keep happening. Today’s wars are just sad, too. Wars don’t seem to settle anything, they just keep going on.”
Still another aviation link for Liggett is the several years she and her husband managed the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport.
But her few years as a “Rosie the Riveter” will always be special.
“It was a hard time to live, but a very interesting time, too,” Liggett said.
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Rifle’s CMC campus is closed today for a water main break.