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Rosies, other World War II era women, honored

By Staff | Sep 8, 2017

Courtesy photo Top, Ada Mary England is shown as a welder in World War II.

HARPERS FERRY – During a nationwide commemoration Monday, four West Virginia women were honored for their service during World War II. The local ceremony took place in Harpers Ferry, sponsored by the Harpers Ferry Woman’s Club and the Town of Harpers Ferry.

Honored for service as a “Rosie the Riveter,” – or Rosie the Welder as she explained – was Ada Mary England, 98, who traveled from her home in Pennsylvania with her daughters. Also honored was Dorothy Davenport, of Charles Town, who rolled bandages during the war; Gladys Rockenbaugh, of Harpers Ferry, who worked with the FBI; and Agatha “Pete” Murphy who was a nurse during the war.

England was asked to participate in the Harpers Ferry event by Ann Montague, of Nitro, who is the organizer of Thanks! Plain and Simple, Inc. The organization, founded in West Virginia, is dedicated to promoting and recognizing the efforts of the women of the World War II era who stepped up to fill positions left vacant when men went to war.

Hosted by Harpers Ferry Mayor Wayne Bishop and Councilwoman Barbara Humes, the event followed the agenda of hundreds of events held at the same time around the nation, including three others in West Virginia. At 1 p.m., church bells rang and attendees rang hand bells in honor of the women.

England, who will celebrate her 99th birthday in just two weeks, was born Sept. 13, 1918 in Kelsey, Virginia. She moved to various locations in West Virginia during her youth, marrying John England at age 17. John was a coal miner, who was injured in the mines, and could not serve in the military. During the war years, the couple moved west to Portland, Oregon to aid in the war effort and secured employment at the Portland Navy Yard. John worked as a machinist and Ada trained as a welder. She worked on supply ships and battleships until after the end of the war.

Chronicle photo by Toni Milbourne Agatha “Pete” Murphy, of Harpers Ferry, a WWII nurse, greets Ada England, center, and Dorothy Davenport.

Following the war the couple and their family moved east, settling in Oceana, where John opened a small coal mine operation. Ada operated the family’s bar and restaurant business and welded the coal cars as needed.

The couple had ten children, seven who grew to adulthood. Ada is now the proud grandparent of 16 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

Davenport, born in 1924, is a resident of Charles Town. She was born in Princeton, Illinois and worked the county courthouse in her hometown rolling bandages as soon as she was able.

“The day she graduated from high school, she walked across the street to the courthouse and volunteered to roll bandages and work with the Red Cross,” said Alice Davenport-McCarthy, her daughter.

Davenport was excited to be a part of Monday’s ceremony, donning her kerchief and ringing a bell during the 15-second time allocated to the ringing of the bells nationwide.

Stephanie Rockenbaugh shared a biography of her mother, stating that Gladys was keenly aware in her teen years, of the shortages caused by the war. Stephanie explained that Gladys, an honor student, was selected to go to the Greenbrier Hotel, 25 miles from her home, which was serving as a temporary hospital for returning soldiers. There she volunteered and participated in social events with the wounded servicemen.

“Mother remembers dancing with soldiers with only one arm or one leg, and some in wheelchairs,” Stephanie told the crowd gathered Monday.

In May 1945, Gladys graduated at the top of her class and was recruited to work for the federal government. Her appointment was with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Her father received a letter of assurance for her safety from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

She worked in the fingerprinting department and was part of the successful team who got gangster “Lucky Luciano” deported back to Italy. For her services during the war years, she received the “War Services Certificate.”

Murphy, 96, served as a nurse in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Stationed in Norfolk, Va., she took care of wounded soldiers when they were sent back to the states. The soldiers were both Navy and Marines.

“(Murphy) clearly remembers that they were glad to be back in the States and they didn’t feel sorry for themselves. She tells me that they were grateful for anything and everything that the doctors, nurses and members of the community did for them,” Humes said.

After the war years, Murphy worked as a surgical supervisor in the Bronx. There she met a woman named Frances Reeser, who was born and raised in Harpers Ferry. After an invitation from Reeser to visit the West Virginia town, Murphy met Reeser’s cousin, Charles Murphy, who had been a soldier in the Army Air Force. She married Charles Murphy and moved to Harpers Ferry where she continues to be an active member of her community.

The ceremony also included the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry District Veterans who served as the Honor Guard, remarks by State Sen. John Unger and the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner by Kevin Carden, Harpers Ferry’s town recorder. The event concluded with refreshments and time for all who wished to speak with the honored women.