Thursday, June 27, 2019

Rosie Riveters share stories at Travis Air Force Base

(Left to right, in red) Rosies Marian Sousa, Marian Wynn, Agnes Moore and Kay Morrison pose with female Travis Air Force Base service members in front of a KC-10 Extender. (Left to right, in red) Rosies Marian Sousa, Marian Wynn, Agnes Moore and Kay Morrison pose with female Travis Air Force Base service members in front of a KC-10 Extender. Nick Sestanovich– The Reporter

Throughout World War II, as men across the United States were fighting overseas, millions of women were assisting in the war effort through working in factories, shipyards and other places doing jobs traditionally seen as men’s work.

These women became known as Rosie the Riveters, and their efforts marked a shift in women’s roles in the workforce. Several living Rosies who worked in Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyards in Richmond during the war often get together for various events, and four of them were at Travis Air Force Base Tuesday to tell their stories.

The base welcomed Agnes Moore, 99, of Walnut Creek; Kay Morrison, 95, of Fairfield; Marian Sousa, 93, of El Sobrante; and Marian Wynn, 92, of Suisun Valley. All were dressed in red as they addressed the crowd at Reel Time Theater.

“I think we could learn a lot just from the pure guts and the pure raising of their hands to say ‘I’m gonna be a part of the solution rather than letting someone else do it,'” Col. Kristen Beals, a commander of the 60th Medical Group at the base’s David Grant Medical Center, said in her opening remarks. “Nobody really asked them to be a welder or a draftsman. They actually raised their hand, and they felt that they were going to be a part of the solution.”

Wynn said she came to California from Minnesota in 1944 before she graduated high school. Her father had previously worked for the Works Progress Administration at a pay rate of $69 a month to serve a family with 11 children. However, after seeing an ad in a Minneapolis newspaper for a job as an electric leadman in the Kaiser Shipyards, he flew out to California to take it. Wynn subsequently got a job as a pipe welder.

Wynn said there were three things she had to learn in her job: the size of the pipe, the size of the rod and the amount of heat to be used.

“If you get it too hot, it’s gonna burn a hole,” she said. “If it’s too cold, it’s gonna stick to the pipe. So you learn pretty fast how to weld.”

Wynn made $1 an hour during the week, but she also worked on weekends where she made $1.50 on Saturdays and $2 on Sundays.

“I worked every weekend I could to help my dad with the little ones at home,” she said.

Morrison said she was different from the other Rosies in attendance because she had already lived in California when the war started, having been born in Chico. She married her husband, Ray, in 1940 when she was a junior in high school, and the next year Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor.

“We were devastated,” she said. “We thought, how could somebody come on our soil and do the dirty trick they did?”

As a result, Morrison and her husband took jobs in the shipyards. She had gone down to San Francisco’s Union Hall, where she was greeted with a sign that said “No Women or Blacks Wanted.”

“I was crushed,” she said.

Ray had gotten hired in the Shipyards as a carpenter, and Morrison returned to Union Hall a year later where she was hired as a journeyman welder.

“What the heck is a welder?” she responded. “Whatever it was, I was going to do it.”

Morrison said she was grateful for the experience.

“The three years that I welded for Henry J. Kaiser, I considered it an honor and a privilege that I could serve my country in that capacity,” she said.

Moore said she learned about her future job in Richmond through a radio advertisement that encouraged women to become welders. She dressed in a black suit, gloves, veiled hat and high heels and told the receptionist at a Richmond hiring hall that she wanted to be a welder.

“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 did welding work on the outfitting dock, and she was thrilled with the work.

“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 by Kaiser Shipyards after graduating high school to become a draftsman, where she made revisions to the blueprints of troop transports constructed in the Engineering Department. Her sister, Phyllis, worked as a welder.

“The women proved they could hold their own as welders and as women,” she said.

Sousa said her work was very different in a pre-computerized world.

“Your T-square was your guide to everything,” she said. “Your measurements and everything had to be very precise.”

The four women have remained active at Rosie events, including as docents at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front in Richmond. They also got to visit the White House a few years back through an invitation by then-Vice President Joe Biden. They got to meet cabinet officials and even then-President Barack Obama.

“It was just a magical trip,” Sousa said. “Breakfast with Vice President Biden in his home was a real plus.”

Three of them also recently went to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in which one of Wynn’s brothers was killed. The event was an inspiring one for all involved.

“The people of Normandy still have very dear feelings for the American GIs, and it was just an outstanding feeling to be there,” Sousa said.

At the conclusion of their stories, the four women received a standing ovation from the crowd at Travis. They then made their way to a hangar where they got to tour a KC-10 Extender and talk with female service members.

To read the original article, click here.

Rosie the Riveter Trust (ID # 94-3335350) — PO Box 71126, Richmond, CA 94807-1126 — (510) 507-2276

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