Mandy Cooley and her mother, 89-year-old Wilma Rees of Sun City, attended the Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony in downtown Phoenix on Dec. 7 when a B-17 bomber flew over the area.
Cooley said her mother became sentimental.
“She looked over at me and she said, ‘Some day I’m going to fly in one of those,’” Cooley said. “That’s where the idea came from.”
Rees and her twin sister, Amelia Kizer, served as ‘Rosie the Riveters’ during World War II.
“We started in 1942, working at Boeing in Seattle,” Rees said. “I was a rivet bucker, which means I was in the tip of the wing putting the skin on.”
Kizer was there, too.
“I was a mechanic, and in the union, too,” she said. “I worked on the radio rooms of the B-17s while they were just skeletons. We never did know what they really looked like when they were finished.”
While the sisters spent nearly two years building B-17s, neither had ever flown in one, which is why Cooley said she took her mother’s request to heart.
“Me, my sister, my cousin and her two brothers, we went in on it together,” she said.
What they went in on was a birthday present for Rees and Kizer, courtesy of the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field in Mesa. Saturday morning, Rees and Kizer flew abord the Sentimental Journey, a B-17 that saw action in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
When their children told them what they had planned, Kizer said she and her sister were in shock.
“We were surprised, thrilled, a little frightened,” she said. “The instructor here said a lot to reassure us, though, so I’m feeling much better.”
As excited as the sisters were to fly in a B-17, the Sentimental Journey’s crew was perhaps even more excited to have them. Each member of the crew took a moment to visit with Rees and Kizer, shaking their hands and offering their thanks.
“Thank you for building such a fine airplane,” said Crew Chief Russ Kozimor. “I’m really glad you ladies got to take a flight with us. It’s really cool to have you.”
Rees and Kizer have another reason to feel an attachment to B-17s. Their brother, Elmer Mathauser, lost his life in one.
“The plane was lost on the way from Tampa to Miami,” Rees said. “That was May 6, 1942. Ten men were on that plane. It was never found.”
Just a few months after their brother’s death, in September of 1942, Rees and Kizer began working at Boeing building those very planes. Now, decades later, they finally got the chance to fly in one. As the passenger briefing wrapped up and crew prepared the plane for takeoff, Kizer said she thought of Elmer.
“I think our brother would have been very happy to know we got to ride in a B-17,” Kizer said. “I believe he’s up there somewhere watching us right now.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.