WWII changed lives and history forever, the war world was a time of death, destruction, and evil; however, it was also a time that brought people together in ways never imaginable. Everyone had to step up and do their part. Many chose to fight, nurse, and build. People showed strength and tragedy brought communities closer than ever before.
A critical part of this was the need for equipment, vehicles, weapons, and gear. A war cannot be fought and won without these things. It became crucial to have factories provide what the military needed but most able-bodied men were away fighting. This created an unprecedent moment in history where women had an opportunity to shine and show they can be vital to the war efforts. They filled these positions when men couldn’t. The war wouldn’t have been won without these efforts. The women worked the factories and shipyards during World War II earning this uncanny group became nicknamed Rosies the Riveter. In today’s blog we will follow interviews of several women from the era who tell their first hand experiences during wartime and how life changed for everyone.
“The all-out Mobilization of the U.S to build ships, tanks, airplanes, weaponry, and every other form of military equipment created millions of jobs, and women rushed to fill them. Industries eagerly hired women for work previously done only by men. Popularly dubbed Rosies the Riveter, these women made a major contribution to the war effort. Wartime industrial work was also a new experience for the women and it often changed their lives.:” — Michael P. Johnson
Susan E. Page – Journeyman Welder
I was born … in San Francisco, the second child of Danish immigrants. … I was attending San Mateo [California] High School when the war broke out. I was 14 years old. I had come down the stairs that morning and I saw my mother, father & brother huddled around the radio in the kitchen. I could hear the familiar voice of our President, Franklin D. Roosevelt saying that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. Where was Pearl Harbor, I wondered? And why were they attacking us?
My brother was saying quietly that he would enlist and hopefully be accepted as a pilot. I was full of questions, but not yet realizing what this would mean to our little family and our nation. Right away most of his friends and mine … began talking about the war and the service, knowing that they would be called to serve our country. They did not want to wait for that call and a group of them agreed to sign up as soon as possible. Events happened so fast after that — they were all leaving their homes and families, including my dear brother. They were sent to different boot camps all over the country. …
It seemed that our lives had changed overnight. My father was trying to get into the service even though he was in his forties. I was losing interest in school. It somehow didn’t feel as important as it once had. I begged my father to give his release for me to leave school. He was finally convinced by my promise to find a job right away. Dad persevered in his efforts to join up until, at last, he was accepted into the Navy, and was soon gone. My mother was working long hours and our house felt so empty. I began working as a waitress in a creamery. But I knew this was not what I wanted to do. I was just marking time.
One night my friend Bonnie called me and said she had heard that Western Pipe and Steel in South San Francisco was hiring and she was going there in the morning. I said I wanted to go with her and apply for a job there also. We met the next morning to figure out how to get there. Neither of us had a car, so we decided to hitch hike. We were both hired that very day. Oh my, we really lied about our ages! We put down that we were 18 years old, but I was not quite 17 yet! No one raised an eyebrow!
My friend was sent to class to learn how to become a “Burner.” I went to welding classes, held right across the street from the shipyards. Completing the required two-week classes, I became a “tacker” for a shipfitter named “Pucinelli.” His English was not perfect, but we worked well together and his sense of humor helped the long days pass quickly. After a couple of months working with Pucinelli, I became a journeyman welder. That involved more complicated and challenging work, but I loved it. I felt like I was finally doing something that would bring my brother and others home again. I went to work every day with enthusiasm and dedication. …
Donna Jean Harvey – Radar Installer
I was born in Casper Wyoming … [and] was raised and educated there. … I married Lewis Early Harvey in January 1941. He was drafted when the war broke out. …
Labor force was critical at that time so I went to United Modification Plant and learned how to rivet, [and] do installations of various kinds. … When the “new” radar system was implemented, I asked to be put on that crew. The F.B.I. investigated me and found me to be worthy and I proceeded to install radar along with my riveting duties, while waiting for the next shipment of planes to come in. They were sent here from the factory, literally as “shells” and we put them together and sent them on their way to Europe and other points where the B-17’s were needed. I installed relief tubes occasionally, did some aerial installations, loaded the shells in the magazines, installed Plexiglass for the rear gunners and etc. When the next shipment came in we had plenty of riveting to do and a time allotment to get them ready. I was awarded the Army-Navy E Award and was presented with a pin. I’ve always been very proud of that!!! I certainly got educated in more ways than I ever expected, being a very young girl. …
My feeling about the war in most instances was a conglomerate of mixed emotions. I had lived a fairly sheltered life, but I listened and learned and managed to survive, but I must admit, it left a scar on my memory that can never be erased. …
The government was asking for rubber donations so my mother and I gave them our rubber girdles!! We liked to think that our girdles helped win the war!!!
My life took on a totally new perspective the longer I worked there. I saw many tragic accidents, none of which I care to talk about which haunt me to this day.
I couldn’t do much socializing as I had a small infant at home to care for when off work and besides I was really pooped. Those midnight shifts were “killers.” … I tried to write weekly letters to my husband in between my other duties. … I did enjoy sharing stories with my co-workers as most of them were “war widows” also and we gave each other a shoulder to cry on when needed and a hug whether we needed it or not just to get ourselves through the shift.
Our community gathered together and collected scrap metals and such to help in the war effort and thanks to a good neighbor, who was growing a victory garden; we managed to get gifts of potatoes and lettuce etc. The government issued coupon books that allowed us two bananas a week, one pound of sugar and so many gallons of gas. We traded back and forth depending on our individual needs. …
The day the war was over, I gathered up my young son and my parents and we went to town and danced in the streets with everybody else, waved our flags and just generally whooped it up!!! Praised the Lord, it was over!! And yes, the war changed my life. … It also taught me that war is hell, pure hell. … I pray that once and for all … people will learn to live in peace and respect each other for who they are and just get along.
Delana Jensen Close – Machinist
I spent two years of the war in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area, at the Yuba Manufacturing Company, making 155 millimeter howitzer field guns. … When I arrived in California from Utah, I was told that a war plant had opened up in the town of Benecia and was hiring women, so … I applied for work. After a battery of tests I was put to work operating one of the large boring lathes. …
I was later told that when I applied for a job, the plant had been testing women to find out if they were capable of running one of the big machines. I was hired and was the only woman to ever operate one of them, and in six months time I was training men for the job.
My machine was thirty-five feet long and rested in an oil pan that was thirty-eight feet long. The oil constantly lubricated and cooled the machine as it bored the metal. I spent the war years standing on the rim of that oil pan so I could look down on the section of the barrel that I was working on and be able to reach the part of the operation which I performed. My job was to bore out the inside of the barrel where the breach lock fit. It had to be perfect, the measurement within 1/1,000th of an inch.
While my girl friends worked in the shipyards at Vallejo for 65 cents an hour, I was among the elite: I made guns at Yuba, and was a machinist second class. I joined the union, paid my dues, and earned $1.31 an hour. And on that grand amount, with the help of three housemates, I bought a house and furnished it. …
But we were living in a special time and place. There was an energy in the air and in the people. We were wanted and needed and important to the war effort.
V-E Day, on May 8, 1945 was a day of celebration, but one of mixed emotions for us. We lost our jobs. Yuba would no longer make guns. We said our good byes, and when the foreman of my section shook my hand and said goodbye, he added, “You were the best man I had.”
Loucille Ramsey Long – Sheet Metal Mechanic
It was on December 7, 1941. Our family … heard on the radio … President Roosevelt sadly gave the news of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. I went outside and looked up at the stars with a thought of how can I help? I was 18 years old, I was one of the eleven children of my parents who were farmers in Oklahoma.
In two months I took a bus to California to live with my sister in Clovis, California. I worked in a dime store a short time, then I heard that the government wanted women to sign up to be trained to work at ship building and aircraft repairs to replace men who were being called to services. My friend and I went to Fresno and signed up for training.
We were sent to Santa Barbara and lived in a big house with many other women, daily we were taken to a shop and were taught how to use tools in sheet metal work in ship building. …
About two months later we were told we were to be taken to Sacramento. We arrived and stayed in old Army barracks. We had an Army cook and lived there and were bussed to the Fairgrounds to learn our trade in a big shop. We took lessons on both sheet metals for aircraft and ship building.
Our instructor, Mr. Lloyd told me and my friend, Maxine Landtrip, he wanted us to go to Mather Field and to do repairs on airplanes, he was boss of all civilian workers there. …
The guys at Mather pulled many tricks on us such as being sent to a tool room for female and male tools, but we did fine. At first there were only trainer planes, later came the bombers. … We worked shift work all days and hours. …
We noted the crew would look real anxious when they saw girls working on their plane. They looked like “We don’t know if we will make it to our destination,” sometimes one of the crew would wait and watch what we were doing, we understood! We riveted in many tight spots with space only for a hand and a metal bucking block. It took both of us one to run the rivet gun and one to buck the rivets. …
We worked on B-24’s, B 17’s, and many others. One day we had a meeting of all workers, we were told that Mather had been chosen … to receive, check, and work on the new bombers, the B-29’s. We were told it was to be a secret and kept that way for the rest of the war with Japan. If we told anyone other than our people at the base we would be put in jail.
We were very excited one day to see many B-29’s hitting the runways, taxied up and formed a long line. Each plane was assigned a guard with a high powered rifle. When we got assigned a job on a B-29 the guard was to check our tool box and see each tool taken in and out of the plane. …
One day I was in the shop working and I looked across the hanger I saw a B-29 taxi up to the hanger and turn around on the side of the plane its name printed as the “Enola Gay.” … We didn’t know at that time the mission of the “Enola Gay” until recently I read a book that said it was to drop the atom bomb.
BOOK PICK OF THE DAY
For over five years the Miller Family, Myra Miller, PhD, Ken Miller, Del Miller, Marshall Miller, and Lynette Miller Ballard, have zealously gathered memoirs of World War II servicemen and servicewomen. In 2016 they published Soldiers’ Stories: A Collection of WW II Memoirs. Now, on the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, they have given us a second volume. Were it not for the Miller Family, most of these stories would not have seen the light of day. Tom Brokaw popularized the phrase “The Greatest Generation.” Read the stories and you will see why the title is deserved by all 16 million men and women who served so proudly.
Here are the mysteries of courage, the terrors of violence, and the cruelties and coincidences of war. Here, also, are reminders of the humorous events and day-to-day life of those war years. Our first book collected stories our father told us and accounts of other WWII veterans. More narratives demanded a second volume. History is alive. As any veteran will tell you, our future depends on the choices we make now, choices based on our understanding of the past and the meaning of war. Each person’s story speaks of the precious gift of life and our common humanity beyond national borders.
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