Defense plant worker remembers V-J Day
The Kansas City Star
Juanita “Skeet” Tudor Lowrey of Kearney, Mo. was 19 and living in Kansas City on Aug. 15, 1945, when the Allies announced the Japanese had surrendered, marking the end of World War II. That night, Lowrey went downtown with friends and climbed onto the roof of the Fidelity building to celebrate. V-J Day is observed Sept. 2, the day the formal surrender took place on board the USS Missouri. This conversation took place at Lowrey’s home.
How did you come to be in Kansas City during the war?
I had grown up on a farm in Dawn, Mo., and went to Chillicothe Business School. I came to Kansas City to live with my sister, who was working at Montgomery Wards, and a couple of other girls. Later my mom came to Kansas City, and my sister and I lived with her at 45th and Troost.
Where did you work?
At a little defense plant out on St. John, near Montgomery Ward. We made big batteries for walkie-talkies. All the girls were working in defense plants. One friend worked at Pratt & Whitney building engines and another at Lake City (Army Ammunition Plant).
Did you know a lot of people who were in the Army?
Russ, my husband, was in the Army. A lot of the kids we had gone to high school with were gone.
Were you dating your husband before he went off to the Army?
We had gone to school together since the first grade. And we had dated in high school. But, of course, you wrote to more than one guy.
Well, at that time, you didn’t have a steady boyfriend, like the world would end if you broke up.
Where were the boys you wrote to stationed?
Russ was a gunnery instructor in Biloxi, Miss. He was a farm kid, you know, so he knew about gears and machines. Another boy was in the South Pacific. Another one was in the Navy, but I don’t remember where he was stationed.
How did you find out the war was over?
I was at work that day when we heard.
Did you know instantly how much that was going to change everything?
I think so. My friend who worked at Pratt & Whitney told me they all got sent home when the news came and were told to come back later to pick up their last paychecks. And that was the end of a lot of our jobs.
How did you celebrate that night?
My roommate from business school, my sister and my mom rode the streetcar downtown. Mom must have gone home pretty soon.
We ran into some fellows I had gone to business college with, and we all went to the Hotel Phillips and climbed out a window and up a fire escape to get on top of the building. Then afterwards, one of the guys who worked at Ernst & Ernst, which was on one of the higher floors of the Fidelity building at 909 Walnut, signed us in there. We went up in the elevator and climbed out a window again and up the fire escape to get to the top.
Why did you want to be up on the roof?
(Laughs.) I don’t know. Because it was there. There was a table and chairs up there, and we just monkeyed around a while and then went back down. I don’t mind going up fire escapes, but going down is a whole different story.
What could you see from up there?
There were, I don’t know, probably thousands of people milling around on the streets.
Was that the end of your adventures that evening?
No. Back on the street, some guys were pulling a scaffolding they had made with effigies of Hitler and Hirohito and Mussolini hanging off it. At some point those guys abandoned the scaffolding, and we found a couple of the effigies in the gutter. So we drug them down to Union Station.
And, of course, Union Station at that time had trains in and out all day long. We often went to a late show at the movies that got out at 2 a.m. and then we would go to Union Station afterward to look around at the people coming and going. So it wasn’t unusual for us to be there really late — there were just more people than usual that night. It was pretty late in the morning when we took the streetcar home.