Four local Rosie the Riveters told their stories and participated in a Labor Day global bell-ring ceremony honoring the women who went to work when America’s men went off to World War II.
“I am proud to be a Rosie the Riveter,” said Anna Hess, who helped organize the ceremony, held at the Southside Fire Station.
Hess was raised on small farm in Roane County, she said. They heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor – on Dec. 7, 1941 – late that evening. “The next day, almost every young man in the neighborhood from every hill and holler went to the induction center to volunteer to serve their country.”
Her father and brothers went to work in a defense plant in Akron, Ohio. She and her mother stayed behind for a time until family housing could be found. When they rejoined the men, her mother went to work at Goodyear Aircraft as a riveter and Hess went off to school.
Then Hess learned about a power plant looking for workers and applied. “I had to tell a little white lie because I was only 15 years old.” Like the other three, she went to work in 1942.
It was hard work, she said, but worth it. “Every woman did her share. They wanted to bring the boys back as quick as possible and end the war.”
Just before VE Day – May 8, 1945 – she met her future husband, Franklin Hess, who went on to serves as a Morgantown firefighter for 27 years.
The annual “Ring a Bell for Rosies” celebration began in 2016 and is coordinated nationally by Thanks! Plain and Simple, whose goal is to “create projects that guide people to pull together to do real work that upholds and advances America’s basic principles.” The Rosie the Riveter movement is part of that mission.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer served as emcee. “They worked together and they helped us win the war,” she said. Local Girl Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance and former Delegate and Morgantown Mayor Charlene Marshall led a prayer.
On behalf of the Morgantown Fire Department, Chief Mark Caravasos said, “I’m really proud to be a part of this today and being able to honor you.”
Another Rose, Pauline Everetts, saw her twin brother and others go off to war, she said. “I began to wonder, ‘How could I serve?’”
An opportunity arose at a factory in Ambridge, Pa., testing wiring for warships. From there, she moved on to American Bridge Co., where she trained as a welder and welded bridge supports.
Then she took a job at Curtiss-Wright Corp., where she lived in an apartment with some other women. Every morning, they were bused out to a secret site – the windows were curtained – where she welded airplanes.
After a year and a half on the job, “The boss came in one morning and said ‘Everyone turn off your machines! You can go home! The war is over!’ We started yelling and running around the building!”
Jean Malone welded naval landing craft at the shipyard on Neville Island, Pittsburgh. “I was glad to help during that time but was glad when the men returned when the war was over.”
Alice Chapman, 94, went to work for Douglas Aircraft in California in June 1942, the day after she turned 18. Her daughter, Gina Brown, was sitting next to her during the ceremony and told her story.
At the factory, Chapman was allowed to choose between the typing pool or the factory floor working on B-17s. She didn’t know how to type and didn’t want to learn, so she picked up a rivet gun and riveted the famed Flying Fortress bombers.
Forty-four years and nine children later, in 1986, Chapman retired from McDonnell Douglas at age 62.
The ceremony culminated at exactly 1 p.m. Firefighters gathered around a bell – which once sat atop City Hall – for a simultaneous, round-the-world bell ringing.
Firefighter Jason Jacobs pulled the rope to sound the bell 15 times in 15 seconds.