When Americans everywhere were giving up luxuries for the effort to win World War II, Mary Babnick Brown gave up something much more personal than a favorite food - her below-knee-length hair.
Brown, now 83, was honored Saturday for contributing to the war effort. In a ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy, she received a special achievement award from the Colorado Aviation Historical Society.What she didn't know back in 1942 was that her hair was used as cross hairs in a secret bombsight used on bombers.
Brown said she didn't really want to give up her blond hair, but caring for it was becoming a lot of work. The government wanted hair at least 22 inches long. She sent 34 inches - hair that had only been trimmed, never really cut, for her first 36 years.
In 1942, she saw an advertisement in a Pueblo newspaper that the government was looking for women to contribute their hair to the war effort, she sent an inquiry and quickly received a telegram asking her to send a sample.
A few days later, she received another telegram pleading for her hair. It was exactly what they needed, said officials with the Institute of Technology in Washington, D.C.
"I saw so many people crying their eyes out, not wanting their sons to go," she said. "I was sad. I wanted to do something for the war effort."
Bill Feder, founder of the International B-24 Memorial Museum in Pueblo, learned recently that a Pueblo woman had donated her hair, and he began looking for her.
He told Brown that her hair was used experimentally as cross hairs in a bomb-aiming device known as the Norden bombsight.
The bombsight, invented in the mid-1930s by a Swiss immigrant named Karl Norden, was essentially a mechanical computer used in high altitude bombing. The device took into account such things as altitude, the plane's speed and wind velocity.
When the target reached the center of the cross hairs, the crew could drop the bomb with dependable accuracy.
Used on the B-24 Liberator, the B-29 Super Fortress and the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Norden bombsight was so secret that it was equipped with explosives, Feder said, and crews were ordered to destroy it if their bomber ran the risk of falling into enemy hands.Comment on this story
At altitudes as high as 20,000 feet, the bombsight cross hairs were subjected to freezing temperatures and rapid changes in humidity. Black widow spider webs, which contracted and expanded on scale under those conditions, were originally used but were fragile and hard to come by.
Feder said Brown's fine blonde hair, which had never been bleached or touched with a hot iron, was unique and shared many of the qualities valued in the black widow spider's web.
In addition to the bombsight, her hair was used in scientific equipment such as humidity measuring devices important in the production of airplanes and other war machinery.
The Norden bombsight eventually was replaced by electronic bombsights, but when the newer devices did not prove accurate enough to drop radio transmitters along jungle trails in Vietnam, the Norden bombsight was successfully used to do the job.