Carson City’s Linda Rangel Billman remembers riveting for War World II |

Carson City’s Linda Rangel Billman remembers riveting for War World II

Carson City resident Linda Rangel, 94, built B-17 bombers in a factory and repaired Navy ships in Southern California during World War II.
Jim Grant | Nevada Appeal

Carson City’s Linda Rangel Billman remembers Pearl Harbor day.

She was 19 years old, living with her Aunt Maudie near the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. That night she heard a loud noise outside, then everything went black.

She ran into her aunt’s bedroom. “What happened?,” she yelled. They turned on the radio. The noise had been a warning blast.

“We were at war.”

A few months later, she was walking home from work cleaning houses when a man in a uniform approached her.

“He was asking everybody if they wanted to learn how to work on airplanes,” said Billman. “I told him I didn’t know anything about it but he said he’d teach us.”

Soon, Billman was in training at Douglas Aircraft Co. learning how to work on B-17 bombers with hundreds of other young women like her.

“I was a riveter. Rosie the riveter,” said Billman, now 94 years old.

What was it like?

“Oh my God, I thought I’d never learn,” she said. “It was hard.”

She could see her older sister Mary, who eventually went to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, across the factory floor.

“We were paid 99 cents an hour for training and $1.19 an hour on line,” said Billman.

And part of that pay went to buy savings bonds.

“She was picked as one of four to do reworks on ships,” said Mark Billman, her son.

Ships came close to port and Billman and several other workers would be ferried out to tighten up the rivets.

“We got a $25 bonus,” she said. “It was raining. We worked like men.”

She now has arthritis in her hands, which was caused by her years riveting.

“That’s what the doctor told me,” said Billman.

Billman never really knew her mother, who passed away at the age of 28.

Billman’s father remarried but he died when Billman was 13 years old so she and her sisters, Cecilia and Mary, and brother Gilbert, grew up living with various relatives, including Leo Carrillo, the actor who played Pancho in the TV series The Cisco Kid, who was an uncle.

Billman didn’t stay long there.

“There was too much commotion, too much going on,” she said.

But the connection eventually led her to a job modeling for 20th Century Fox, her uncle’s studio.

Before the end of the war, Billman met and married her husband, Chester Adam Billman, who served as a telegrapher for the U.S. Navy during the war.

“We met at a dance,” she said.

They lived for awhile with her in-laws in Glendale, where Billman’s father taught him how to roof.

“Dad roofed for 50 years,” said Mark Billman.

They moved on to Granada Hills, Calif., where they raised three boys, the oldest, Charles Ben, and twins, Mark and Rodney.

In 1976, the family moved to Mark Twain, where Billman worked as a contractor on the Thurman Ranch House and Southgate Apartments among other buildings.

They eventually moved to Carson City, after Chester Billman became ill. He passed away in 2003.

“He was a good man,” said Billman. “We were married 59 years.”

Since then, her older sisters have passed on, too. Mary retired from NASA and moved to Carson City where she volunteered with the Sheriff’s Office. She died a year ago Thanksgiving at the age of 96. Cecilia, who stayed in California, passed away at 99 years old.

“They left me all by myself,” said Billman. “How dare they.”

She still has her sons, though, who all live in Carson City.

“She’s the last of a dying breed,” said Mark Billman.