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WWII-Era 'Rosie The Riveter' Workers Recognized

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 5:17am

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — In 1943, four women working at a Goodyear Aircraft factory in Akron, Ohio, signed their names on the wing of the airplane they were putting together. Sixty-seven years later, one local "Rosie the Riveter" is being recognized for her contributions to the war effort.

Kitty Strickland, who was born near Elkview in 1926, was one of those four women whose signatures Ceryl Johns, a retired British Royal Navy officer, recently found as he refurbished the Corsair aircraft used in World War II.

Thanks! Plain and Simple, a local group dedicated to helping veterans, brought Johns and his 90-year-old mother, a British version of Rosie the Riveter, face to face with Strickland's daughter Karen Dorst.

Other Rosies were also in attendance, and they shared photos and stories with one another. Johns gave a brief presentation on the discovery of the signatures, located on the underside of one of the aircraft's wings.

Johns said when he saw the signatures, he knew he had to contact those women.

"We had these names, and I thought, 'How do we find these ladies?'" Johns said.

He contacted the Akron Beacon-Journal and a reporter there wrote an article about Johns' find. That's when Karen Dorst, Kitty's daughter, realized her mother's signature was on the plane.

"I called Major Johns and sent him handwriting samples and he verified that it was my mother," Dorst said. "I'm so overwhelmed by everything now. I knew my mom was a great lady, I knew that all my life."

Rosie the Riveter was a recruitment tool used by the U.S. government to persuade women to join the work force. After the U.S. entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, many men left factory jobs to join the service. The government needed women to step in and fill those positions. Many women held jobs in factories making planes, ships, ammunition and other things used by soldiers in the war.

Strickland's first job at the Goodyear factory was as a riveter. But because of her small frame, the riveting gun was too much for her to handle.

"They decided to put her on the wing to do the wiring on the lights in the plane," Dorst said. "She could wire anything."

Years after the war, Strickland wired the house she and her husband bought together. It passed inspection the first time.

Thanks! Plain and Simple is working with Rosies from around the state to bring their stories to light.

The West Virginia Rosie the Riveter Project began in 2009 and more than 70 women from across the state have stepped forward to share their stories. The group is working on developing a "Model Rosie the Riveter Community" in St. Albans to teach others about these women.

According to the Goodyear website, more than 4,000 Corsairs were constructed at the Akron plant. By 1942, the plant employed 35,000 men and women. In 1943, more than 310,000 women worked in the aviation industry.

Dorst said her mother grew close to the women she worked with.

"She told me that when they worked on the planes, they got to know each other really well," Dorst said. "She loved every one of them."

Strickland was close friends with a woman named Pauline, who also signed the aircraft wing. Dorst said she thinks her mother and Pauline often dated the same men.

"Pauline and my mother used to go to the dances," Dorst said. "At one dance, Pauline was with my father, then he left with my mother. After the war, they dated eight days before they got married."

Johns pointed out that short courtships were common during the war.

"That happened a lot in those days, because they didn't know what was going to happen," he said.

On the other side of the pond, women were also filling factory positions previously held by men. Although they weren't called Rosies, these women did their part to help the war effort.

Elsie Johns was one of these women. She worked in an arsenal that put phosphorus tracers in ammunitions. She and a friend skipped work one day when the factory exploded.

Although she and the American Rosies were working on opposite sides of the ocean, the war changed the way people interacted, she said.

"We can't believe what we went through during the war," Johns said. "We got to the point where we thought 'What the heck, let's just join ourselves.' People became closer during the war."

Ann Montague, executive director and founder of Thanks! Plain and Simple, said the Rosies deserve all the recognition and praise they receive. She said the group is working to bring the British Embassy to America to meet a group of Rosies and recognize them for their work. Montague said that could happen sometime in the fall.

Dorst said all the women who helped with the war effort can be credited with unifying the country.

"To me, they're the most amazing women in the world," she said. "They kept our men from losing over there. These ladies sacrificed and they got the job done. That's what we needed in our country. It pulled the country together."

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