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Kalamazoo factories helped allied forces on D-Day

WW II Glider.jpg
Kalamazoo factories helped allied forces on D-Day. (WWMT)

Several factories in Kalamazoo and across West Michigan created the parts that built the planes and gliders used in the allied effort to win World War II. Those machines also saw action June 6, 1944, known as D-Day.

The WACO CG-4A glider delivered cargo carrying the tools of war, but some parts of the plane were made at Gibson Guitar, one of the most iconic Kalamazoo factories.

"Companies producing curtain rods and guitars went into producing gliders to help with the war effort," said Quinton Slovacek, a collections and exhibit assistant at the Air Zoo in Portage, Michigan.

Although the invasion of the beaches of Normandy, France, started on the ground, thousands of CG-4A gliders assisted from the air. One of those planes is now part of a special D-Day exhibit at the Air Zoo.

Slovacek said more of the CG-4A's were built in Michigan than in any other state.

The frame of the CG-4-A was built at the Shakespeare Co. factory, which made fishing rods in Kalamazoo. The bottom skids of the plane were assembled at the Gibson Guitar factory.

Rendal Wall has worked at Gibson since 1960, and he helped to create Heritage Guitar Co. in 1985.

His father, Rem Wall, who also starred in a show "Rem Wall and the Green Valley Boys" on WKZO television, started working at Gibson Guitar in Kalamazoo in 1948. Wall said both he and his father have 91 years of experience working at the Gibson factory building.

Wall said in addition to skid plates on the CG 4-A, other wartime tools were assembled at the Gibson factory.

"It's nice to have a big facility, like Gibson was at the time, to almost instantly transfer into another product. A lot of women during the war did most of the work at this factory and helped keep the lights on," Wall said.

Historians said women were vital in churning out parts for the war effort all across factories in Kalamazoo.

"You think of Rosie the Riveter. We had our own Rosies right here in Kalamazoo," said Sharon Carlson, the director of archives and regional history collections at Western Michigan University's Zhang Legacy Center. "They were working in companies like the Shakespeare Co., the Kalamazoo Stove Co. They were packing parachutes, working on making ammunition."

The D-Day exhibit will be at the Air Zoo until Sunday, June 9, 2019.