formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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December 10, 2013 The Real Rosie the Riveter

The Liberty Gazette
December 10, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Farm kids learn early to do what it takes to make things work, and to work with what’s on hand. Vickie’s mom grew up on a farm, one of nine children, and one of the things she learned was how to build houses. That skill was enhanced when she became a widow and had to leave Kentucky with her two young children in search of work. Henry Ford had made his factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan available for building B-24s, and when Vickie’s mom heard there was work in Michigan she and her children boarded a bus that headed north.

Times were tough during WWII, and a job in the bomber factory was a good deal. They say they turned out one plane every 55 minutes, thanks to the handiwork of America’s women. They called them collectively, "Rosie the Riveter", after a popular song of the day. There was not just one Rosie, but six million who replaced the men who had gone to war.

When actor Walter Pidgeon came to the Willow Run factory in Ypsilanti to film a war bonds film the crew began looking for the woman who would be the human face of that spirit, the woman who embodied courage, strength, and determination.

Someone at the plant declared they had the perfect candidate right there, building airplanes. She was spunky and gutsy, fit the character of the song, her primary job was riveting, and her name really was Rose.

Linda: That all happened before Vickie was born, but she loves telling the story about her mom, Rose Will Monroe, the original Rosie the Riveter.

The familiar poster of the lady sporting a red bandana, flexing her bicep, was not the original. That was a Westinghouse company morale poster. The emblem on the model’s collar is a Westinghouse badge. Geraldine Hoff Doyle was a musician who decided after a couple of weeks working in the factory that the risk to her hands was too great. Not willing to sacrifice her future in music, she quit the job, but was there the day the photographer came to take pictures and choose a model. Years later, in the 1970’s, that Westinghouse company poster became the symbol of "Rosie the Riveter". Geraldine wasn’t even aware they had used her likeness until decades later.

Rose had long admired the women who came to pick up the airplanes she helped build; watching the WASPs fly away relying on her rivets, she longed to be one of them. The rules forbade her, a widow with children, to join the WASPs, but in spite of her circumstances her heart belonged in those airplanes.

In the early 1970’s Rose finally became a pilot, and shared her passion for flight infectiously for a few years, until one day when a passenger changed the course of her life. In his first flight in a small plane, the passenger reached forward on take-off and flipped the switch that operated the electric flaps asking, "What’s this do?"

What it did was slam the plane into the ground, causing serious injuries to Rose, Vickie, and the passenger. Rose lost an eye and a kidney, and her health was never fully recovered.

Says my amazing friend, Vickie, "Seems so final, but it's not. Mom left a legacy for all. She was uncompromising in her high standards, no job was beneath her, and she believed teamwork could accomplish anything."

We’ll leave you hanging ‘til next week when we’ll have more on this riveting history.

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