Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II

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Lucille E. Sunde

original photograph size: 5"x3"

In March of 1944 I decided to try to get a job working on the Victory ships at Todd Shipyards in Seattle, WA. It was said it was a patriotic thing to do. Besides, I discovered I was pregnant. My son, Dean, was four years old and payments to the doctor were still owing.

My husband, Ellsworth (nick-name, “Snicks”) worked at Boeing Aircraft. Because he had a slight build, he was able to get into small spaces to inspect. I believe he was called an Expediter. He worked on B-20s and P-38s. However, he often stopped at the Log Tavern on the way home from work. Hangovers made for short paychecks.

I found that to work on Victory ships I needed to be a U.S. Citizen. I was born in British Columbia on Vancouver Island in Nanaimo My father was born there, as well as my older brother, Marden.

My mother was born in Port Townsend, WA. In those days (1907) when a woman married a Canadian, she lost her citizenship. But later she became a naturalized citizen. So I was able to claim what is called, derivative citizenship under hers. I had to find various documents such as: my father’s and mother’s birth certificates, their marriage license and my father’s death certificate (1940). The procedure seemed odd to me as I had grown up in Seattle and gone all through school completing High School. I remember the patriotic feeling as we saluted the flag often.

My older brother, Marden, served in the U.S. Army. He was given his U.S. Citizenship in Paris . He was in the Battle of the Bulge. The heavy artillery left him with tinitus. Even so , his career was Music. During the War he was active in the USO to entertain and help with morale. After the War, he returned to N.Y. where he attended College and also Julliard School of Music. He became a professor at Montclair State University . He enjoyed teaching the young people and turned his hearing handicap into an asset by getting them to enunciate clearly.

My older sister, Lois, and younger brother, Neel, were born in Seattle . Neel was a Conscientious Objector, but served in the Merchant Marine on an oil tanker. There were some scary times when they were chased by submarines.

After I proudly received my citizenship, I applied for work at the shipyards. There I was a Rosie the Riveter. Most of the time I didn’t really know what to do. I worked along with the girls and a team leader. She looked at some plans. Then a big sheet of metal was held up and we attacked with our rivet guns. I can still hear the sound ringing in my ears. Later some of the holes needed to be reamed out to make them larger.

My memory of this was what looked like chaos to me. There were many hoses laying all around. When I had to walk anywhere on a break or to the rest room, I walked gingerly picking my way through. A story was told about a man who had somehow lost an eye when a powerful air hose burst.

Then there were the smells of the metal as it was being worked on. Mixed with the pungent odor of Puget Sound , it made me feel nauseated. The proud feeling of being hired to work on the Victory Ships began to fade to fear on the job and the uncertainty of what I was supposed to do. I was concerned about my little boy at home with a young baby sitter, as well as my husband’s drinking. Being pregnant was no help either. I am sorry to say that I only lasted there for about five months. But what a memorable experience it was!

The crowning glory to all this was that my husband joined the Merchant marine. He was 4-F for the Army. He was told that he was too light for his height He came home with a new khaki uniform which needed to be carefully ironed with creases done just right. I hated that. He would go down to the hall to wait to be called. It was called being on “cadre”. He never once was called, yet there was still that darn ironing to do.

As our friends and neighbors did, we had good and gas coupons. Meat was one of the shortages. A neighbor raised rabbits, so for the first time, I tasted it. I felt lucky to be able to buy it. One of my friends knew where there was a small truck garden. For only a few dollars we could get a nice supply of fruit and vegetables. I remember waiting in line for staples that came in to a store. Sugar , flour, etc. I don’t think we were too depressed by all the shortages. There was a spirit of, “We’re all in this together”.

When we didn’t have money to buy oil for our oil burner for our small FHA two bedroom one-bath house, we burned wood in the fireplace. Sometimes when my husband was late getting home, I had to go out in the rain to the garage to chop wood and bring it in. That was miserable. Another problem was that my little boy had asthma. The dampness brought on colds and severe asthma attacks.

Once we heard sirens warning us that an attack was imminent. Since we had no basement, we ran next door to the neighbor who had one. This was when the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor in Alaska . It was feared that Seattle would be next.

On V.J. Day all the kids in the neighborhood had a parade riding their bikes and trykes with much laughter and singing.

Not long after we sold our little house and the furniture to move to California to make a fresh start in a drier climate for little Dean and hopefully for his Daddy, too.

Lucille E. Sunde

 

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