Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rosie the Riveter for a Day and the Willow Run Bomber Plant

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Rosie the Riveter for a Day

Me and Mindy the Riveter
Last Saturday, March 29th, the real Rosie the Riveters of World War II were celebrated in a Guinness World Record attempt and fundraiser to save the Willow Run bomber plant from demolition - the home of riveter Rose Will Monroe. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this monumental day to celebrate the memory and contributions of all those Rosies some seventy plus years ago who sacrificed so much for their country. I pinned up my hair, tied on my red and white polka dot bandana, donned by blue working clothes and boots and headed to Hangar 1, the home of my historic heroine. The world record attempt was to get as many Rosie the Riveters in one location as possible. The record was attempted last fall with but with less than 150 participants it wasn't enough to set the world record.

Going into the event I didn't know what to expect. Knowing my luck I figured that I would be one of about 25 women who dressed up and came out on a 30-degree day. To my delight that wasn't the case. I arrived at Hangar 1 around 1:30 pm and took my place in line behind a few dozen Rosies. As we stood there freezing waiting for the hangar doors to open a steady flow of Rosies trickled into line. Having waited nearly 30 minutes to enter the hangar, the doors opened at 2:00 pm and the Rosies moved inward.

The Blob of Rosies
My first stop into the hangar was a costume check-point. All Rosies had to match in their attire in order for each individual to count towards the world record. After I passed the checkpoint I signed my photography release form and was handed a small ticket. I was specifically instructed by the Rosie who took my form to not lose my ticket, because I wasn't allowed to have another one. So, I took my ticket then chose a seat next to another Rosie where I waited until the formal Guinness World Record photograph was taken.

The Rosie I sat next to, was actually a Mindy. An army veteran herself, and near Lucille Ball look-a-like, she donned a button of a family member who worked at the bomber plant. Like many of the women I spoke to their connection to the plant ran deep. One woman I chatted with while waiting in line for the bathroom told me that her mother, mother-in-law, and father-in-law all worked at the plant. Their stories were truly inspiring and really helped passed the time. And as the clock ticked on I noticed all of the Rosies. There were short ones, tall ones, babies, kids, adults...and there they were, the original Rosies. The world record attempt had brought all types of women out, including a few of my historic heroines.

At 3:30 pm the time had come. I didn't lose my ticket (thank heavens) and all of the Rosies were instructed to form a line to exchange our tickets for wristbands. It was then that I realized how big of a deal this event actually was. As the blob of Rosies worked their way to the wristband station it was pure chaos - Rosies as far as the eyes could see in all directions being corralled into the official photograph staging area! I was placed at the back, but that was alright with me. Thanks to small devices, like my iPhone I was able to photograph and film crucial parts of the event. After all the Rosies were put into position, the original Rosies came out and we all chanted, "Rosie, Rosie, Rosie!" And, after a few patriotic songs and a ceremonial flag-raising photographers took the "official Guinness photo." It was then that we discovered that we had not only beaten the world record, we had obliterated it with 778 Rosies. We only needed 250.

The Original Rosies take their place in the front.
While the world record attempt was fun, the event really wasn't about numbers. It was about the importance of the Willow Run bomber plant and the women who worked there. The significance of Hangar 1 isn't something to take lightly, and now the facility faces demolition. With much support from the community, the Yankee Air Museum in Ypsilanti has been able to raise some funds to save this important historic landmark, but they haven't reached their goal yet. After participating in celebrating these women, I realized that we cannot forget that if we let the building come down those important memories and legacies are threatened too. So, help save the bomber plant and donate today!,

A Brief History of the Willow Run Bomber Plant and Rosie the Riveter

During World War II the American government called on women to fill the work roles left open by enlisted men leaving for the war. This mass propaganda campaign for women in the workforce resulted in nearly 6,000,000 women entering the workforce, half of which entered jobs in war defense assembling all types of products in support of the war effort.  And no place in the nation better embodied this spirit, than Detroit, Michigan. With expertise in assembly production, the Detroit area was a natural fit for vehicle and aviation manufacturing - so much so that Detroit and its surrounding communities became known as the Arsenal of Democracy.

As all normal production halted during the war automobile factories across Michigan shifted their focus. In the early years of the war the Ford Motor Company built and converted several plants to aid in war time production. In 1941, the Ford Motor Company opened the Willow Run manufacturing complex for the production of B-24 Liberator heavy bombers in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and women from metro Detroit represented a large portion of the workers.

In 1943, Norman Rockwell depicted a female riveter on her lunch break that made the cover of the May 29th issue of the Saturday Evening Post. His iconic image gave the name "Rosie" to female factory workers everywhere, but Rockwell's painting wasn't the only iconic Rosie.  One year prior to Rockwell's Rosie, the Westinghouse Power Company produced a poster featuring a woman with a red and white polka dot bandana flexing her muscle. Today, this is widely recognized as "Rosie the Riveter". But one lucky Willow Run riveter, Rose Will Monroe who worked on B-24 and B-49 bombers at the plant was featured in an ad promoting the purchase of war bonds. It is Rose Will Monroe who is remembered at Willow Run and the "Rosies" like her who sacrificed on the homefront.

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