Wilma Frances Ferrebee Foster peacefully passed away on October 18,2021 in Laurel, Maryland. She was born on February 24, 1925 in Burlington, West Virginia to the late Thornton and Sadie Ferrebee; the 10th of eleven children. Her father was a share cropper and the family moved throughout West Virginia and Virginia, working the land of plenty.
During World War II, at the age of 18, Wilma went to live with her brother in Hagerstown, Maryland. There she was trained and worked as a riveter on the wings of the PT 19 Trainer Plane at Fairchild Aircraft. After the war, Wilma married Abraham "Abe" Foster of Winchester, Virginia. Together they resided in Laurel, Maryland.
Wilma was known as a woman who was kind, loving, giving, and a devoted servant of Jesus Christ. She was affectionately known as "Mama" to many. She devoted most of her time to her church and family. She was a member of First United Methodist Church on Main Street in Laurel, Maryland since 1950. She was a homemaker, quilter, cook, choir member, and Sunday School Teacher. For over 40 years, Wilma and her daughters traveled to various churches; singing and harmonizing gospel music as Wilma played the guitar. Later in her life she was a founding member of the Laurel Maryland Chapter of the American Rosie the Riveter Association. The story of her work was published at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
Wilma is survived by her daughter, Ann Marie Miller and her husband, Roland of Laurel, MD and daughter, Margie Streicker and her husband, Jerry of Sykesville, MD; 4 grandchildren: Trevor Miller and his wife, Kelly, Brandon Miller and his wife, Amy, Kathy Streicker, Jerry Streicker, Jr. and his wife, Laura; 8 great-grandchildren: Brooke, Paige, Delaney, Zoe Miller; Gabriel, Vanessa, Caleb, and Sullivan Streicker. She is also survived by many nieces, nephews and friends.
She was predeceased by her husband, Abe; 3 brothers: Elwood, Medrick and Thornton Ferrebee Jr.; 7 sisters: Leona Spurling, Josephine Sendoya, Marjorie Rowland, Bernice Kincaid, Thelma Perdue, Delphia Painter, and Evelyn Lee.
Memorial donations may be made to:
I was born, Wilma Frances Ferrebee, in 1925, the ninth of ten children. I was raised in Hayfield, Virginia, where my father was a sharecropper and my mother a housewife. On the morning of December 7, 1941, I was sixteen years old and in the tenth grade. We were living in Berryville, Virginia, when we heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt announce over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by Japan. I had no idea how my life was about to change.
War had come to us and we had to learn how to live "on a shoestring". Work was slow for Dad and money was tight. I had to drop out of school to help my family. The government started registering everyone for the distribution of materials in short supply. So, I helped distribute ration books at a small schoolhouse in Millwood, Virginia. There was a shortage of gasoline, rubber, sugar, grease, clothing, and especially shoes. My family was fortunate to be living on a farm and had our own milk, butter, and cheese along with what we grew in the garden.
Then the war really threatened out country and the draft started. My father was called up but his age of sixty-four kept him out. My brothers Medrick and Junior left for the Navy. I went to Hagerstown, Maryland to work at Fairchild Aircraft (where the fairground is today). I would stay with my brother, Elwood and his family, work and send money home.
Everyone recycled! We recycled every tin can by rinsing it with water, opening it at both ends, and flattening it. We put them on our back porch and they would be picked up regularly. Materials were scarce. In 1943 the penny was made out of zinc because copper was needed for war materials.
It seemed everyone either worked or went to war. I received training on Franklin Street in Hagerstown and worked the swing shift at Plant 8. It was my job to take a snake drill and drill holes on the inside trailing edge of the wings of the PT-19 trainer planes. The riveter followed. I took my job seriously and did my best. The wage I earned was ninety-six cents an hour. Twice a month I went home on the train.
In the plant, safety rules were closely followed. We had safety shoes, long-sleeved blouses, slacks, and a snood hair covering. My co-worker was to hold a block of wood, called the bucking block, firmly and still to back up the metal where I would be drilling. The wire extension on my snake drill was about two feet long. Well, one day I was drilling and she was busy talking and not really paying attention. She let the block slide and the extension reeled back on me. It hit my head and tore out some of my hair! I still have the bald spot as proof! I never worked with her again! We were both questioned by plant security because of the torn hole in the metal. They needed to rule out sabotage. After all, these planes were important to the war effort.
There were funny things that happened at the plant too. The paint shop crew painted out shoes blue and yellow, the same colors a the PT-19s that we worked on. We did almost anything to lighten our days at work. I remember one girl, a well-known flirt, who paraded herself through the plant from time to time. One day one of the boys got close to her. She liked the attention, but he was actually putting a tape tail on her. Later on when she found out, she was so embarrassed she cried and cried. It was funny to me but I felt sorry for her too.
I formed close friendships with my co-workers. We would go bowling or go to the USO club in town. The war was intensifying. Daytime was the time to go shopping and run errands. I enjoyed taking my nephew, Franklin, to matinees to see cowboy movies like The Lone Ranger or to see The Green Hornet. There were no fairs and no outside lighting. Many times for entertainment we would play board games.
At night we experienced blackouts. A siren warned us to prepare and a siren would warble all clear. MPs from Camp Ritchie patrolled the streets at night. Even a tiny spark or a lighted cigarette could be spotted from the air. Nobody was to be out, only us workers. We would listen to the news on the radio to hear the progress of the war. The newscaster would say "Good news tonight..." or "Not so good news...". We listened to Walter Winchell or Gabriel Heater. Radios were the tube type. We kept a cover on it so the light could not be seen. Radio shows we enjoyed listening to were Bing Cosby, the Andrew Sisters, Glenn Miller, and Frank Sinatra. Many songs had to do with our boys coming home one day: "Over There", "When the Lights Come on Again All Over the World", "God Bless My Darling", "He's Somewhere", and "Soldier's Last Letter".
Belle became my friend at the plant. She had a brother, Charles, who was in the army. After about a year of dating, Charles and I became engaged. Then, he was shipped out in late 1944. We corresponded by letters. Mom wrote to him too. Then Belle told me that she and her family were notified that Charles had been killed in action in Italy. I went to be with his family for those days. I coped with the news the best I could. I knew I had to just let it go. So, I stayed busy.
The day World War II ended, I was at work in the plant. It came across the loud speaker that the war had ended and we had won a victory! We knew our work was ending because Fairchild was immediately laying people off. Belle moved to Texas and I never heard from her again. Another friend, Blondie, joined the Air Force and moved to California. I never heard from her again either. I returned home to my family and farm work. My brothers came home from the war. Things returned back to normal. Sometimes I think it's almost as if it didn't even happen.
The war changed me though. It made me grow because I had never been away from home before. It made me more aware of what I had. Sometimes I would say to myself, "What am I doing with my life?" The war strengthened my fait. I became a person who could live modestly, thinking of others, and helping others in need.
After the war I needed to get on with my life. I met Abraham Foster and married him in 1946. He worked at the shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland. He had also been head of the motor pool at Fort George G. Meade in Fort Meade, Maryland. We lived in Laurel, Maryland, and raised two daughters. Abe is deceased now, but I am still active with my family, church and community. At the time of this writing, I have four wonderful grandchildren and two beautiful great-grandchildren.
Being very patriotic, over the years I made myself available to speak at schools and to other groups who wanted to hear a personal account of World War II. Looking back, I am proud of my country and the park I played in supporting it.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Wilma Frances (Ferrebee) Foster, please visit our floral store.