TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – They broke through barriers by proving women could perform the work of men in factories and shipyards across the United States.
From 1942 – 1945, when many men left their jobs to serve in World War II, 6 million women stepped in to fill the void and keep America’s war machine running. These women are known as “Rosie the Riveters” for their “can do” spirit, according to the Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Heritage Park website.
Travis AFB welcomed four Rosies June 25 for a base visit. During the visit, Agnes Moore, 99, Kay Morrison, 95, Marian Sousa, 93, and Marian Wynn, 92, shared their experiences working at the Richmond, California, Kaiser Shipyard during a presentation at the base theater.
“When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we were devastated and we wanted to do something to help our country,” said Morrison, who hails from Chico, California.
Morrison applied for a job at the Kaiser Shipyard where her husband worked as a carpenter helping build ships. When she arrived at the shipyard in February 1942, she found a sign outside with the words, “No Women.”
“I was determined to help my country, so I ignored the sign and went inside,” Morrison said. “I told a man that I wanted to go to work and build ships for my country. He said, ‘We’re not taking women.’ I was crushed.”
Five months later, the shipyard opened employment to women to serve in a variety of capacities. Morrison returned to the shipyard in January 1943 and was able to apply for a job.
“I wanted to do my part to help America win the war and solidify peace,” she said.
She was hired as a welder. After completing two weeks of training, she was assigned to work in yard 2 of the shipyard where she worked the graveyard shift. She served nearly three years as a welder and fondly remembers the time she spent at the shipyard.
“The more ships I built, the sooner the men would come home from the war, that’s where my focus was,” she said.
The women working in the Richmond shipyard during that time helped build 747 ships, the most ever during a four-year period.
“We wanted to get our people home,” said Wynn, a native of Pine River, Minnesota, who worked in the shipyard as a pipe welder for 11 months. “It seemed like everyone had a relative in the war or knew someone who had gotten killed in the war.”
Wynn’s brother, Donald Parsons, was killed in action in France in July 1944 while serving with the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Shortly after his death, she made the approximate 1,895 mile trip from Minnesota to apply for work in the shipyards.
“I wanted to help,” she said. “After completing high school, I got a job bagging granulated rock wall insulation for $0.53 an hour and it took me two months to save enough money to come to California. I arrived in Richmond around Aug. 21, 1944, on a Greyhound bus, it took forever to get there. During the trip, I learned Morse code from a Sailor who was on the bus next to me.”
Wynn was hired to work in shipyard no. 3.
“I was trained in the shipyard for two weeks and then I was put to work welding pipes together that were installed throughout the ships,” she said.
Moore said she learned about the need for women to work at the shipyards while listening to the radio.
“I was in the car one day and an announcement came over the radio and said ‘Women, do something for your country, go to the Richmond shipyards and be a welder,’” she said.
She arrived to apply for the position in a black suit, gloves, veiled hat and high heels. The receptionist at a Richmond hiring hall suggested Moore apply for office work.
“She looked me over and said, ‘Well, we have lots of jobs vacant in the offices,'” Moore said. “I said, ‘Oh no, this is an important job. They’re advertising for us on the radio to go do this, and that’s what I want to do.’”
Moore served as a welder on the outfitting dock and fondly remembers that time.
“I was not a native Californian,” she said. “I had only seen the ocean a few months before I was hired to be a welder, so everything was new and exciting.”
Sousa was hired to work in the shipyards as a draftsman, where she was responsible for revising blueprints that were constructed in the engineering department.
“Your T-Square was your guide to everything,” she said. “Your measurements and everything had to be very precise.”
Sousa travelled to Richmond from Oregon in the summer of 1942.
“The women proved they could hold their own as welders,” she said.
Recalling what her and her female co-workers accomplished, Wynn shares Sousa’s sentiment.
“Women can do anything and we’ve proven it time and time again,” she said. “We had electricians and welders. One of the women we worked with actually had to change the original plans designed to accommodate two beds in the sleeping quarters on the ship. She found a way to add a third bed and she was only 17.”
Morrison said she hopes the Riveter stories help motivate today’s service members.
“I want to empower them, the women and the men too, to help one another,” she said. “We really have to stick together. We weren’t successful individually, it took all of us riveters to help end the war.”
The former welder, who is now a great grandmother, shared high praise for the men and women serving in America’s armed forces.
“Today’s military members are doing a terrific job protecting us and carrying on where we left off,” she said. “They step up to every call and I think that’s tremendous. They deploy on short notice all over the world, leave their families behind and they’re always ready to go. I think all of them are very brave because they face so many obstacles, and the unknown and they charge right into it. That takes courage.”
Staff Sgt. Courtney Dohn, 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion craftsman, attended the riveter presentation and said she was glad she did.
“It’s important to know our past and to appreciate the hard work and commitment the generations who came before us put forth, especially for female maintainers,” she said. “It hasn’t always been easy for women in the workforce and the Rosies broke through barriers so we can do what we do today.”
“The Rosies are living history,” added Master Sgt. Shanna Peters, 60th Aerial Port Squadron traffic management office cargo operations section chief. “They paved the way for future maintainers.”
The senior NCO said it was a privilege to learn about each “Rosie” story from the “Rosie” who lived it.
“We don’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been,” she said. “It was such an honor to hear from the Rosies today.”