I recently met a woman with the most amazing life story. A truly remarkable woman with an incredibly interesting tale to tell. I spent over two hours listening to her as she told this story to me. Her name is Audra, and this is her story.
When Audra turned 16 years old, she decided to run away from the boarding school that she called home. With a Greyhound bus ticket in one hand and her bags in the other, Audra was to Chicago. When she arrived, it was to discover that America was at war. The date was December 7, 1941.
Chicago was known as the pulse of America, but Audra found it to be the pulse of her story. She found opportunity there after she became a showgirl in a high-class dinner nightclub, where Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra performed. She was the opening act for both of them.
She told me how “Frank and Dean” used to pinch her on her bottom, and she would turn and gently slap them while wagging a finger at them.
She soon moved on to support the war effort by becoming an inspector for the seats on fighter aircraft that were being manufactured in Chicago’s Chrysler factory. If the seat passed inspection, she stamped her initials onto them.
While working for Chrysler, Audra entered a company beauty contest competing for the “Blonde Bomber B-29” title. Coming in first place, she made headline news and became a “pinup girl.” She actually became one of the women used as nose art on American bombers.
After learning about the contest, a fighter pilot reached out to Chrysler requesting a picture of Audra “Miss Blonde Bomber.” The contest picture was soon sent to him and he pinned it up in his cockpit. When the war ended and the plane was returned, officials found Audra’s picture still hanging in that aircraft. Coincidentally, that aircraft’s seat had her initials stamped on it as one that she had inspected.
Audra eventually became a trained machinist’s assistant and in the tail end of the war had a job grinding valves for the engines of B-29s. So it was that in 1945, one of her valve sets was used in one of the first Silver B-29 bombers, one bearing the serial number of 44-86292. She was considered the aircraft’s good luck charm, and even though the aircraft didn’t bear her name, her picture was carried to war, pinned to the inside of the lower cabin.
That B29 was named by its pilot. The plane was named the Enola Gay.
That fighter pilot who carried her picture as he sat in the seat that she had inspected? After the war, he searched for her until he found her. They were married, and Audra became a June Taylor dancer. For the next five years, Audra appeared on shows like Jackie Gleason’s “Toast of the Town.”
After five years, she left the dance troupe to raise the first of the couple’s three children. She remained married to that fighter pilot for 44 years, until his death more than 30 years ago.
It was a real honor to get to know this incredible woman and hear her larger than life story. That entire generation is filled with truly incredible Americans. Sadly, that generation is dying off, and with them, so is this nation.