Sisters Lillian and Margaret were 20 and 18 years old when they worked at the Sylvania Defense Plant at Huntington, W.Va., during World War II.
Margaret Elizabeth Parsons Short passed away in 2005. Margaret’s daughter, Brenda Thomas, interviewed her aunt about the experiences the sisters shared during World War II. Thomas shared the sisters’ story, as well as a photo of the two at the time, with The Logan Banner.
Margaret’s sister, Lillian Gertrude Parsons McDonald, was born April 19, 1923, at Midkiff, W.Va. She graduated from Logan High School in 1942.
Lillian married Ralph Woodrow McDonald, June 7, 1946, and the couple had two children, Sherlie McDonald Ellis and Delbert Rex McDonald.
Lillian and her sister learned about the jobs at the Sylvania Defense Plant from their cousin. They packed up and headed to Huntington, where they worked at the plant one and a half years.
Like many people in Logan County, Lillian had a connection to men who were fighting in the war. Her boyfriend, Ralph McDonald was a Staff Sgt. in the Army Air Corps and his brother, Virgil McDonald, was a prisoner of war.
Her sister Margaret, who worked with her at the plant, was married to Denver Elmo Short, who was serving with the 101st Airborne unit stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga. Short was wounded four times during his deployment and was awarded a Purple Heart with three Oak leaf clusters.
Lillian said the young women weren’t homesick during their time way from home. They had each other every day and their parents, Delbert and Nellie Baker Parsons, lived in West Hamlin at the time and visited them on weekends occasionally.
Lillian said working at the defense plant made her more aware of things going on in the world and made her more responsible. The sisters earned very little money at the plant and Lillian said they used most of it to pay rent, buy food (using ration coupons) and to pay for other necessities. She said she did manage to save $400 while she worked at the plant and gave it to her mother, who needed it to pay for medical needs.
According to Lillian, they worked with a lot of other women at the plant, many of whom were managers. They didn’t know or care how much money anyone made. She said nobody talked about pay; they were just thankful to have jobs.
Lillian said she and Margaret rented an apartment in a home owned by the Coopers near the C & O Hospital on 6th Avenue in Huntington. She said they met a lot of nice people, especially a man who told jokes every day to get everyone in a good mood.
Listening to music by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Benny Goodman Big Band music was how they often spent their leisure time.
August 14th is V-J Day or Victory Over Japan Day. Japanese Emperor Hirohito unconditionally surrendered to the Allies to end World War II. The formal signing of the surrender would not occur until September 2, 1945.
Lillian said she was thrilled to death on V-J Day, because she had written to her boyfriend all during the war and he would be coming home now that the war was over. Her job was also over after the war ended and she returned to Logan County, where she was married June 7, 1946.
Lillian will turn 91 on April 19. When asked what she thought helped her along the way, she said with the help of the Good Lord she never smoked, drank and she has always taken good care of herself.
Everything has changed according to Lillian. She says people have changed and families are different today, especially the number of one-parent families with no fathers at home. She believes family values have really changed.
She said advice she would offer young people today is that they should go to church, take their children with them and make wise decisions in everything they do.
Lillian said she wants people to remember that she always took her work seriously and did her job to the best of her ability. She said she would like to know exactly what they made at the plant and what it was used for during the war. They were told not to talk about what they did and were never given information about what they were making. She said everything was very secretive at the plant.
She urges anyone who wants to talk to women who worked in the plants during World War II to do it soon—before it is to late. “We aren’t getting any younger,” she said.