When my dad Richard Klamm of Holdrege, Nebraska visited the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, AZ a few years ago, he found a rather personal surprise in Hanger 3.
“They had a B-25 Mitchell Bomber on display with a plaque that told where it was made,” Dad said, “North American Aviation in Fairfax.”
It just so happens, that Fairfax is a district in Kansas City, Kansas in the area where Dad grew up. Even more coincidental is the fact that both his parents, George and Bessie Klamm, happened to work at North American Aviation building for a time on, of all things, B-25 Mitchell Bombers.
“It also said on the plaque that the plane was modified at the modification plant, which was located just across the parking lot from the bomber building facility,” said Dad, “My older sister Edna Mae worked there.”
Normally very reserved, Dad found himself getting a little choked up when he realized there was a very good chance that three members of his family had worked on the plane in front of him.
“I was flooded with all sorts of memories,” he said. “It was nice to think they had a hand in building the plane I was looking at.”
According to Richard Macias, author of We all had a Cause: Kansas City’s Bomber Plant 1941-1945, “The plant was located on a 75-acre site adjoining Fairfax Airport in the Fairfax Industrial District and the ground breaking ceremony for the plant was held on March 8, 1941. A ceremony on December 23, 1941, marked the completion of the first bomber to come out of the plant with the first test flight on January 3, 1942. There were 1,358 workers at the plant early in 1942.”
By that fall, almost one-third of the workforce at the Fairfax plant was women. When production of the airplane ended in August of 1945, 6,608 B-25s had been built there.
After the war, General Motors eventually purchased the property and used it for automobile production and my grandfather, George Klamm, stayed on to work for the company building Buicks, Oldsmobile and Pontiacs.
Up until World War II, the Klamm family, like many of the families in the industrial districts in Kansas City, lived a pretty meager existence with George making a living at odd jobs such as grave digging. With the building of the bomber plant and the subsequent purchase by GM, the family could rely on a steady income.
Dad, who turned 84 in July, recommends a trip to the Pima Museum whether you just like looking at airplanes or are intrigued by aerospace history. And you just never know, you too could find a piece of your own past hidden amongst planes and exhibits on display there.