In just a few days, five of Richmond’s original “Rosie the Riveters”—women who worked in the city’s renowned shipyards during the second World War—will travel to Hawaii to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The commemoration will honor a host of veterans, celebrate more than seven decades of good relations with Japan, and include wartime history makers—like the Rosies.
Richmond’s “Rosies” include Marian Souza of El Sobrante and Marian Wynn of Fairfield, both now 90; Kay Morrison, 93, of Fairfield; and Priscilla Elder of Pinole and Agnes Moore of Rossmore, both now 96.
Last month, the Rosies spent the day in Richmond, on the decks of the 455-foot S.S. Red Oak Victory for a historical reenactment of a day at a 1944 shipyard.
The Victory, the last surviving of 747 ships built in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards during World War II, is now a museum open to the public.
“We are fortunate to have five actual Rosies from World War II here,” said Johannes Hoech, Director of Ship Operations at the S.S. Red Oak Victory.
Museum staff and volunteers work to keep the ship itself—and some of its surroundings—just as they were when the ship was built more than 70 years ago. Even a bunker that once held supplies for the ship is still in place on the nearby dock.
“She is on the shipyard [where] she was built and is surrounded by artifacts from the old shipyard days,” Hoech said.
Volunteers at the reenactment resurrected various roles from the dock’s 1940s shipbuilding days. Some dressed as sailors, some as aircraft artillery operators, others as inspectors and Allied troops.
Volunteer Kirsten Elford posed as a “Rosie the Riveter,” wearing the iconic headscarf, or snood, the woman laborers wore while working in the shipyards.
Elford was joined by the five original “Rosies,” who all contributed to the construction and maintenance of the S.S. Red Oak Victory back in the 1940s.
Souza was a “draftsman” who revised blueprints of the troop transports built at the shipyard. Moore, Morrison and Wynn worked as welders, while Elder was an electrician.
Morrison said the women were happy to participate in the reenactment—just as they were happy to pitch in more than half a century ago.
“I felt I was needed and wanted and I did the job for my country,” she said.
The Rosies were a popular feature at the day’s events, garnering nonstop thanks and praise from visitors.
“I am really, really deeply in debt to all the ladies and people that put this [ship] together, [and to their] tremendous efforts,” said Louis Schornack, from Denver, Colo., who said he and his family had been anticipating their visit to the ship for the past six months.
Two years ago, Vice President Joe Biden invited the Rosies to the White House to dine with his family and meet with President Barack Obama. At the reenactment, they proudly displayed the picture they took with the President in the Oval Office.
Hoech said that whether the original Rosies are there or not, the S.S. Red Oak Victory, which is now fundraising to restore the ship to operational status, receives a few thousand visitors each year.
“They arrive curious and leave in awe,” when they realize what this place stands for, he said.