Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II
I was born in Camas Valley , Oregon and raised in California . My origins are an American mixture of Irish, Scotch, Welsh, and German. My father was a Civil Engineer and worked for the State of California . We moved to several places in California during my young growing years – Vacaville , Sacramento , Visalia , and Bakersfield . I attended Bakersfield Junior College after High School before my marriage to Loring R. Derusha in 1940, in Bakersfield , California .
At the time World War II I was married to my present husband, Loring, who joined the Navy in 1942 and served as a Pharmacist Mate. We owned a small produce business in a grocery store and worked there together. We had no children.
My feelings during the war were of utmost concern for my loved one as he served during the war on an YMS minesweeper in the Pacific Theater. I waited anxiously for each letter from him and read each scrap of news about the war in the evening paper and listened to the radio news.
Some of the first changes in my life after the war started were that I moved back home to my parents home in Bakersfield , and took a job as a riveter working on U.S. Army training planes at Minter Field , California , some twenty miles north of Bakersfield . My job as a riveter was an interesting one and challenging. I was among the first women employed at that type of work. We were given some training with a riveting gun and some metal sheeting to practice on under the careful eyes of an instructor. We were impressed with the importance of our job as many lives would depend on our work. The planes we worked on took many a hard landing and had to be repaired with the utmost skill. I also learned to use the bucking bar and a great deal of my work consisted, because of my small stature, of working inside the airplanes and using a bucking bar while my partner worked on the outside with a rivet gun.
While writing the above paragraph I can recall some of the incidents of that time and remember that we women weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the men who would work as our partners. They showed some hostility towards us which led to some teasing and down grading. We seemed to be accepted in a little while and our work progressed more smoothly. I remember one buxom good looking young lady, who was actually named Rosie, who loved her red tight fitting blouses and which bothered the men so much the manager asked her to wear her coveralls to work.
After basic training, my husband was stationed at Oakland Naval Supply Depot in Oakland , California before being sent overseas and I was able to join him there. The Bank of America trained me as a Teller and I worked for them in Berkeley , California and then transferred to the Bakersfield, California Bank of America when my husband left to serve in the Pacific Area.
We were not unionized at the Bank of America and we didn’t concern ourselves about this. While working as a Savings Teller I worked with a group of women and one older man, Mr. Jones, who was in charge of the department. As Mr. Jones had had no experience on the inner workings of the Savings department, we all stayed after hours and tried to balance the ancient machine used to notate savings’ balances, sometimes staying until none or ten o’clock at night. I enjoyed having a position in the bank and felt good about earning my own money.
While serving overseas my husband wrote frequently but since he served on a minesweeper the mail cam sporadically and was heavily censored. But I was happy to receive it in any condition.
Concerning wartime shortages, we managed quite well and I don’t remember any real hardships. When I lived at home and worked at Minter Field I rode in a car pool and we gave the driver our gas ration books and a fee for driving us as I did not have a car. When I lived at home with my family, we turned our food ration books over to our Mother and she purchased our home supplies. While working at Minter Field I sometimes carpooled with different groups of people at different times as I worked day, graveyard, and swing shifts. My sister had returned home also during the war and we entertained ourselves by going to Movies or to see friends.
My Husband and I made some Navy friends when he was stationed in Oakland . One friend we still correspond with at Christmas time.
Concerning V-J day and V-E day we were all overjoyed that the war was over and that we had won the war and happy that our men would be coming home. After the war my husband continued his business a green grocer and owner of a vegetable stand in the Silver Spray Market in Bakersfield and I worked with him.
The war changed us in subtle ways in that we were three years older and had traveled away from our roots and had been through different experiences. After a few years of selling vegetables, we decided to travel a bit and bought a small trailer and started out to see other places. Since that time we have lived in a few different places and enjoyed our life for the most part. I went back to college and received a Teaching Credential, and taught a few years. I also became interested in Art and joined a painting group. I listened to a wonderful cello concert and remembered that I was a cellist in my high school days, and then started taking lessons on this instrument again.
We are comfortable settled in a mobile home in a nice park in the beautiful city of Santa Cruz , CA. where we enjoy dinners at a nearby Senior Center , and where I also play my cello with a small group of seniors. Our health is good and we enjoy walks and various forms of exercise.
Thank you for including me in the” Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park". I am indeed honored.
Sincerely, Helen Ann Derusha