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Homefront Festival celebrates Richmond’s WWII history

on October 4, 2010

On Saturday, for the fourth year running, crowds gathered at the SS Red Oak on Richmond’s waterfront to celebrate the city’s contributions during World War II. Some of this year’s festivities took place nearby at Craneway Pavilion in the former Ford plant.

This year, the organizers of the Homefront Festival organizers chose to honor Lena Horne, who died earlier this year at 92. “She was a woman who epitomized independence; a self-assured, beautiful woman who could make her own way in the world, and I think that’s so representative of the Rosies,” said volunteer Cyndi Vasallo, speaking of the many young women who took up wartime manufacturing jobs left vacant by men shipped to the front.

Over the course of the day, festival-goers were met at every turn with posters, T-shirts, and memorabilia featuring the iconic “Rosie the Riveter,” rolling up her sleeves and proclaiming “We can do it!”

Horne also had a particular connection to the Richmond Rosies: She visited the city for the dedication of the SS George Washington in 1943.

Edythe Esser of Concord wore the Kaiser Shipyards badge from her days working in Yard 2.

One real-life Rosie, Edythe Esser, 87, came to the event wearing a memento from her days working at the Kaiser Shipyards. Though the metal of badge number 52120 was dull with age, the memories belonging to the young girl captured its photo remained untarnished as Esser recalled her experiences during the time.

After graduating from Richmond High in 1940, during the war she was among the first group of women hired in Yard 2, where she worked the swing shift from 4 p.m. to midnight. Every day, she and her fellow Rosies constructed deckhouses for the Victory ships, Esser explained, rattling off the names of many of her former workers and employers.

At the height of the war, over 27,000 women worked at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, according to the Rosie the Riveter Trust, which operates in partnership with the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park. All told, the Kaiser Shipyards produced 747 ships.

In 1942, Shipyard #2 won a national competition: Workers, many of them Rosies, assembled over 250,000 components weighing 7000 tons to create the SS Robert Peary in just 4 days, 15 hours and 29 minutes.

Authentic 1940's buses shuttled festival-goers from the main venue across the Richmond marina to the USS Red Oak, docked at what was once Kaiser Shipyard 3.

Throughout the day, vintage buses were on hand to shuttle passengers across the marina, where the SS Red Oak—the last of the Richmond-constructed Victory ships—was open to visitors.

The ship hosted a performance of the musical “Rivets,” written by Concord resident Kathryn G. McCarty. McCarty put over ten years of research into her story, which depicts the experiences of wartime Richmond residents and workers.

At the festival’s indoor stage at Craneway Pavilion, vocalist Robin Gregory—dressed in period attire and with her dark hair coiffed in a style of the time—performed songs popularized by Lena Horne such as “Night and Day” and “It Had To Be You.” Gregory and her band had several of the Rosies up and dancing to the familiar tunes.

Also attending the festival were Kij and Gregg Greenwood, Richmond residents who embraced the city’s wartime experience. Dressed in Rosie regalia with her hair tucked under a blue bandana, Greenwood sported the jacket, overalls, lunchbox and welding mask of a wartime worker.

Amanda and Eren Hernandez were given bandanas to tie their hair up like Rosie.

Her gear was so authentic, Greenwood said, that she’s gotten delighted comments from former Rosies

who used similar gear during the war. The pair said they’re fans of Richmond history, and relish attending events, like the Homefront Festival, that honor Richmond’s cultural importance.

Eren Hernandez and her teenage daughter Amanda came across the event unexpectedly while exploring the Bay Trail. Hernandez said she enjoyed the festival and was happy to see the Rosies being honored. “They’re a positive role model for my daughter,” she said. Before leaving, both mother and daughter had donned one of Rosie’s iconic bandanas.

20101002_Rosies|Everything’s coming up Rosies|by Becca Friedman|The working women of WWII


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