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Homefront heroes recognized

By Staff | Nov 13, 2009

From left, Rosie the Riveters Gloria Farmer, Mary Lou Maroney, Garnet Kozielec, Mable Hume, and Shepherdstown’s Dorothy May Photo by Brittany Melkus/Chronicle

Seven women from West Virginia gathered to share their stories about being “Rosie the Riveters” during World War II on Nov. 7 at Shepherd Unversity’s Robert C. Byrd Auditorium. The event was held by Thanks! Plain and Simple, a non-profit group currently collecting stories from women in West Virginia who were Rosies.

While all seven women had unique stories, one thing was consistent across the board: The decision to join the workforce during that dark time was easy, and each felt it their duty to do so.

Olligia Marie Williams of Kearneysville felt the call of duty so strong that she went to Detroit to work in a factory while her two children ages 1 and 2, stayed home with her mother.

“During the war everyone was running the defense plants. Everybody was doing their part,” she said.

Gloria Farmer, of Logan County, became a Rosie immediately after graduating from high school. “I graduated high school in 1944 and joined my sister and cousins in Detroit,” said Farmer. ” I think I weighed about 125 pounds, and the work was hard.” She worked as a riveter on B-24 and B-29 bombers. Farmer recalls her hands swelling so badly that her sister put ice on them every night so she would be able to work the next day. “It is an experience that I will never forget,” Farmer added.

The iconic Rosie the Riveter poster

The women told their stories to an audience of about 50 people. Representatives from the govenor’s office, the Veterns Affairs office, and Workforce W.Va. were in attendence to thank the women for their service.

Also in attendence was Lt. Col. Martine Dierckx from the Belgian military. She gave a speech, thanking the Rosies of America for all their work in the factories, as well as for breaking boundaries for women.

“We need to recognize those who fought and those who died, but there are others who should be remembered, too,” Dierckx said. “The Greatest Generation is not only about soldiers, nor is it only about men. … [Rosies] showed the world they could not only do the work of men, they could do it well. As a woman, I appreciate how your work changed forever the perception of what women are capable of.”

Rosie Garnet Kozielec of Dunbar, became emotional when talking.

“I found out Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and I was scared. I had four brothers. And you just never know,” she said. Kozielec went to work in Detroit making B-24 bombers. She took great pride in her work. Once a plane was completed, she would pat it and whisper to it to bring her fiancee and brothers home safe.

“There was a great need for workers. I was so proud of West Virginia. It was one of the first states to have defense work,” said Kozielec.

Thanks! Plain and Simple is currently collecting the stories of the women from West Virginia who served as Rosies. They are trying to capture the information to create a documentary that they hope will be finished in June 2011. According to Anne Montague, executive director of Thanks! Plain and Simple, 25 counties in West Virginia have been represented so far.