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'Rosie the Riveters' honored in W.Va.

November 07, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Garnet Kozielec of Dunbar, W.Va., remembers she was one of 28 "girls" from her area who went to work together during World War II, when women filled positions on the home front while the men served overseas.

"And I'm the only one left," Kozielec said through tears Saturday afternoon.

Kozielec was one of seven West Virginia "Rosie the Riveters" honored Saturday by the Thanks! Plain and Simple organization with an event at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University.

In what organizers said was the first message of thanks from an Allied nation to the Rosies, Lt. Col. Martine Dierckx, a Belgian official, spoke Saturday.

"Belgium is certainly one of the countries that benefited from your efforts," Dierckx said.

"I hope you realize you were also among the founders of freedom and democracy in Europe," she said before shaking each woman's hand.


Several of the women worked at defense plants in Detroit.

Kozielec worked building B-24 bombers in Michigan before relocating to California, where she worked for the U.S. Navy building fighter planes.

She remembers the day World War II ended.

At 4 p.m. California time, an announcement was made over the plant's intercom.

"'Go home. War ended. See you tomorrow,'" Kozielec recounted.

Kozielec remembers sobbing and running like a crazy person. She lived in Los Angeles at the time, and "everything that could make noise was." Church bells rang out and firetrucks sounded. She described the city as "complete bedlam."

Dorothy Hilliard May of Shepherdstown was trained in Martinsburg, W.Va., and worked at the Fairchild plant in Hagerstown during the war, she said.

May started work in 1942 while pregnant with her first child, she said.

Mary Lou Maroney of Charleston, W.Va., also dealt with a pregnancy during her time as a Rosie.

After working in a defense plant in Detroit doing metalwork, she joined the Navy. One weekend in Norfolk, Va., Maroney married a man she described as a "high school buddy."

Maroney drew laughs describing what happened since she married young and didn't "know a lot about the birds." At that time, as soon as the Navy found out someone was pregnant, "you were out of there," she said.

Maroney served about a year in the Navy, she said.

Mabel Humes of Martinsburg worked in Baltimore during the war.

"I never knew what we were making," she said. "They never told us."

Humes then joined her future husband in Texas, where they were married, she said.

He was sent overseas and Humes came to Martinsburg, where she went to beauty school, she said.

Gloria Farmer of Omar, W.Va., graduated from Logan (W.Va.) High School in 1944 and joined some sisters and cousins who already were in Detroit working, she said. A Ford Motors plant had been converted to a defense plant and Farmer got a job as a riveter, she said.

"This job was hard," she said.

At the time, Farmer weighed no more than 125 pounds. She had to ice her hands, which swelled up every night, she said.

Thanks! Plain and Simple is putting together a documentary featuring interviews with West Virginia's Rosies, said Anne Montague, the organization's founder and executive director. They have identified more than 100 Rosies from across West Virginia, and have filmed interviews with about 20 of them. The group hopes to release the documentary in 2011.

Montague's mother was a Rosie. The daughters of Rosies are called Rosebuds and the sons Rivets, Montague said.

Montague's mother died before she could ask her about her Rosie experiences, she said.

Donnaleen Lanktree, national president of the American Rosie the Riveter Association, also was at Saturday's event. Her organization collects the names and stories of all Rosies, Lanktree said.

"We're really, really proud of them," she said.

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