Oldies & Oddities: The LIttle Steel Strike Airlift
- By Robert G. Pushkar
- Air & Space magazine, July 2001
(Page 2 of 2)
On the ground, strikers resorted to violence. Men hid in trees and ditches and opened fire with rifles as the Wacos wobbled toward their destinations. Every landing was a feat. Pilot Frank Groat, an electrician and part-time pilot hired by Republic, remembered volleys of gunfire as he eased his Waco toward the airstrip. “Every now and then you could hear the bullets whizzing by you as you flew into the mill,” he recalled from his home in Florida. “We never shut off the engines when we came in. We landed, men came out to unload the planes, and we took off. In Niles they used a big net to catch the supplies when we flew over. On those flights we took a second man along, a ‘bomber,’ we called him. He threw the supplies out through the door.”
On June 2, an open-cockpit Waco slammed into a lumber pile alongside the Warren landing strip, bounced into the air, struck a boxcar, and crashed. One wing was broken off and the landing gear badly damaged. The pilot, who was not identified in the Vindicator, walked away with slight bruises.
By June’s end, the Little Steel Strike collapsed. The Steel Workers Organizing Committee failed to organize workers and ordered its men back to work without a contract. Ten people had been killed and a hundred wounded in the “Memorial Day Massacre” clash between strikers and police at Republic’s South Chicago plant.
Republic pilots had delivered 200,000 pounds of supplies. “In buying these airplanes, in flying food and supplies to the beleaguered plants,” Girdler said in Boot Straps, “Republic Steel Corporation was simply taking care of its own.”
—Robert G. Pushkar