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‘Rosie the Riveter’ to be honored

Posted: May 5, 2016 5:07 p.m.
Updated: May 6, 2016 1:00 a.m.

Rosie the Riveter went by many names and came from all walks of life.

During World War II, all able bodied men put on uniforms and went to fight for the free world. When that happened, women stepped in to fill those vital jobs left vacant by the men fighting the war. When the war was over, the men came back home and Rosie was summarily dismissed. No fanfare, no more jobs, barely a thank you.

Finally, that long time slight seems to be getting corrected. Here in Camden, on May 14 at 12:30 p.m. in Monument Square, a pink dogwood tree will be planted during a special ceremony honoring all Rosie the Riveters. The event is being organized by Ceryl Johns, whose mother, Elsie Johns, was a Rosie in wartime England. The event is expected to be attended by local dignitaries, including Camden Mayor Tony Scully and State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk as well as JROTC drill teams, veterans, even retirees from Morningside Retirement Center.

"People just don’t know what these women did," Johns said. "There are still Rosies living, and we can learn a lot from them – theirs is a story that needs to be told and honored."

One of the most important lessons is how so many people can come together to accomplish so much, Johns said.

Rosie the Riveter was the symbolic namesake for every woman who ever left their homes and sacrificed from their families to work in factories and farms, offices and shops, to do all those jobs which still had to be done while the men were off fighting. The Rosies built ships, planes, tanks, trucks. They manufactured guns and ammunition and ran machine shops and mechanic outifits. Rosie loaded bombs and packed parachutes.

Rosie did every single job vital to the success of the war effort. Hundreds of thousands of men fought bravely in combat against the Axis powers -- but they went into the fight fully equipped and provisioned by the Rosies at home.

"What the women did was so incredibly important, and they have largely been ignored," Johns said. "They did it all and did it very, very well."

Johns, who lives in Kershaw County, was born in England. He retired from the British Navy, then would later retire from the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Police Department as a forensic investigator. He was born right after World War II, and heard stories about the blitz from his mother and her friends and never forgot them – especially the stories of all the British Rosies.

English humor being what it is, Johns said those who lived through the blitz pretty much took it one day at a time. At first people would run for shelters when the air raid sirens went off; later, they would shrug it off. He remembered one story about a neighbor who lost her home in one air raid. The next day, she was out in the yard cooking breakfast over an open fire and was ready to go to work at the factory.

That fatalistic approach to the whole situation was simply how everyone dealt with it, he said.

"She worked in an ammunition factory when she was 14 years old," he said. "At the time, the Germans were bombing them every night for six months. She was actually sitting with a friend in a café, having tea, on her day off, when the factory she worked in got hit – everyone on shift that day was killed…I am very lucky to even be here today – I feel like I owe her, and them, so much."

Europe has been more diligent in honoring Rosie the Riveter, Johns noted. That maybe because the war was somewhat more up close and personal – aside from Pearl Harbor, the Aleutians, and other outlying territories, the United States was not invaded or bombed by enemy combatants," he said.

"Thanks to Ceryl Johns, we are especially honored to have a Rosie the Riveter memorial in Camden," Scully said. "Many women here in South Carolina, like many women everywhere in Europe and the United States, worked long hours in hard jobs to secure victory during World War Two and have not been adequately recognized for their sacrifice. At the end of the War, the returning soldiers routinely took back their jobs; the Rosies in many cases in the historical account have been relegated to pin-up photographs of beautiful young women in overalls. One would like to think that the wartime experience of these Rosies have eventually made people realize that women can do any job brilliantly and should be paid the same as men for their work."

For more information on all the Rosies visit www.rosietheriveterproject.org.

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