Rosie was a riveting war hero

Meet the women who shaped World War II history - one rivet at a time.

Have you ever heard of Rosie the Riveter? Do you know who she was?

Well, she was not a single person at all. Rosie represented the thousands of women who worked in defense plants during World War II.

Defense plants were factories where ships, tanks, and planes were welded or riveted together.

A rivet is a thick pin or a bolt with a cap or head on it. It's made of metal and used to hold two pieces of something together. The shank or long end of the pin is put through a hole, and then that end is beaten or pressed down (called "bucking") to make a second head.

You have probably seen airplane wings with rivets in them.

From 1942 until 1945, women did many of the factory jobs that were usually held by men before the men joined the military and went off to war.

For most of the women, this was the first time they had earned a salary; their first time to wear coveralls and boots; their first time to carry a lunch pail and the first time that many had to balance caring for family and work outside the home. It was also the first time for day-care centers and for many things that changed these women's lives.

When mothers, wives, and sweethearts of servicemen joined the workforce, they climbed into the backs of pickup trucks, rode bicycles and trolleys, or walked to work.

They tied their hair in heavy nets, called "snoods," to keep it from getting tangled in machinery. They also wore goggles to protect their eyes from flying objects.

They worked in shifts around the clock, hoping that their efforts would help bring the war to a quicker end.

Some work groups were integrated for the first time. White, black, and Hispanic; single and married; young and old - all worked side by side.

A popular poster, at right, by J. Howard Miller, showed a woman in work clothes making a muscle with her right arm and saying, "We Can Do It!"

It was a call to action, and it worked. More and more women joined the workforce. They wanted to do their part in helping their country win the war.

Some had never worked with tools before. They had to be taught safety precautions to prevent injuries. Some of the women wore heavy gloves, leather aprons, and helmets for protection. The work was very tiring.

But these women wanted to do their best job. The financial rewards were not great. Starting pay was 46 to 65 cents an hour. Some worked 10-hour days, seven days a week, with no time off except at Christmas. Thanksgiving was a workday. But these women - all referred to as Rosie the Riveter - kept at it.

"Rosies" were special people, but they didn't think so at the time. They only wanted to do their part for the war effort.

Life on the home front changed drastically also during World War II. It certainly changed for me when my mother went to work in a defense plant. She worked the swing shift - 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

We were all surprised that she would want to take on such dirty work. But she had joined to serve her country, and she felt that she could help bring her son, who was a pilot, home safely by riveting planes together.

Mother enjoyed her job. It was invigorating to her. It was the patriotic thing to do. Everyone called her "Rosie the Riveter."

On June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, a massive invasion of Europe took place. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower said the Allied forces would continue until victory.

V-E Day (Victory in Europe) didn't come for 11 months, but when it did, everyone celebrated. There was dancing and flag waving in the streets. Cheering and shouting: "Praise the Lord" and "God Bless America."

On Sept. 2, 1945, the Japanese surrendered as well, ending the war.

When victory was won, everyone was grateful that it was over. But as the servicemen returned home to their families and jobs, most of the women who had found independence through working in defense plants were now unemployed.

Some went back to working in beauty salons, and some found jobs elsewhere, but most of them no longer worked outside their homes.

In 2004 the US Congress honored the work of the Rosies. To celebrate their efforts, 24 Rosies were invited to a reception on the Mall in Washington. It was a moving and thrilling event for these women. A new World War II monument was unveiled. It included a sculpture on the north wall that showed Rosies working on aircraft. Five of the Rosies also attended a breakfast hosted by President Bush.

Rosie the Riveter represents an era. She symbolizes the women who worked long and hard to bring World War II to an end. She stands for a time when women began to realize that, if they wanted to, they could do something more than keeping house and raising children.

Many people feel that victory in World War II could not have occurred without all the women who were called Rosie the Riveter. "Rosies" changed America.

Find out what life was like for the 'Rosies'

Richmond, Calif., honors its World War II workers with the Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historical Park.

In the 1940s, the community of 20,000 was transformed into a bustling, mid-size city of 100,000 during the war.

That's because women and minority workers from across the US were recruited to work in factories and shipyards. They built some of the ships, planes, jeeps, and ammunition used in the war effort.

Here are some historical sites in Richmond that can be visited:

• Rosie the Riveter exhibit: Visitors will find a small exhibit at the Richmond City Hall where a self-guided driving-tour booklet can be obtained. Website: www.rosietheriveter.org.

• Rosie the Riveter Memorial: The monument in Marina Bay Park honors the women who worked in the Richmond Kaiser shipyards.

• Ford Motor Co. Assembly Plant: The plant, once the largest car manufacturing facility on the West Coast, was commissioned by the military during the war to make jeeps and armored tanks. Website: www.cr.nps.gov/nr/ travel/wwIIbay area/for.htm.

• SS Red Oak Victory: Hop aboard this 1944 gunship that patrolled the South Pacific during the war. It was built in Richmond. Website: www.cr.nps.gov/nr/ travel/wwIIbayarea/ red.htm.

• Richmond's Kaiser Shipyard No. 3: This shipyard, one of four in Richmond, was commissioned by the US Maritime Commission to build and outfit World War II vessels. It produced a total of 747 ships. Website: www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/wwII bayarea/ric.htm.

Compiled by Steven Ellis

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