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Roses for Rosies

March 22, 2017

SPRINGFIELD — Bettie Layman, 94, barely was tall enough to see over the dashboard of the 18-wheeler that she was hired to drive at an Air Force base in Alabama during World War II.

“They thought I couldn’t do it because I was so short,” she said. “They said all they could see driving down the runway was a pair of eyes — and that was even with me sitting on several seat cushions!”

Layman, who was 19 when she first arrived at the Alabama base in 1942, was one of six Rosie the Riveters who gathered Tuesday at the Vietnam War veterans memorial at the Veterans Memorial Plaza at Willamalane Park in Springfield to celebrate the first National Rosie the Riveter Day.

“Rosie the Riveters” are renowned for the many ways they contributed to the Allied war effort on the home front — more precisely the work front at home. By the millions, they took up the manufacturing, farming and industrial jobs vacated by the soldiers who went to war.

Women made up about 44 percent of the U.S. workforce during WWII, according to Yvonne Fassold, a Eugene resident and former national president of the American Rosie the Riveter Association, who organized Tuesday’s event in Springfield.

Tuesday was the first day of national recognition for more than 16 million women who worked during WWII following the U.S. Senate’s passage on March 15 of a bill declaring March 21 as National Rosie the Riveter Day.

The Senate bill was an effort to raise awareness of and honor the women who worked during World War II and “contributed from the home front.”

“Women left their homes to work or volunteer full-time in factories, farms, shipyards, airplane factories, banks and other institutions in support of the Armed Forces overseas,” the bipartisan bill states. “Those women worked with the United Service Organizations and the American Red Cross, drove trucks, riveted airplane parts, collected critical materials, rolled bandages and served on rationing boards.”

“I’m very thankful that I’m able to come today,” Layman said. “It means that the Rosies have finally come to be recognized for the work they did and what they gave up to do it. It’s a great honor to be recognized with the men that served this country then.”

Lane County Rosies who attended Tuesday’s ceremony said that between Sept. 1, 1939 and Sept. 2, 1945, they worked as ambulance and truck drivers, welders, riveters, field workers and munitions plant workers.

The Rosies who have passed into history also were honored by name at the ceremony, which brought tears to the eyes to some of the 25 women who attended.

Dorris Graham, 91, of Cottage Grove, said the ceremony and national day of recognition were welcome.

“I think it’s nice that we’re finally getting recognized for what we did, although it’s a bit late,” she said.

Graham, who worked writing bonds for the United States Department of Treasury throughout the war, remarked that few Rosies remain.

“There aren’t many of us left to appreciate this,” she said.

In addition to the Rosies at the brief ceremony Tuesday, several “Rosebuds” — the children of Rosies — attended to celebrate their loved ones.

Rebecca Woodard, whose late mother was a Rosie, said she was thrilled that these strong women from the WWII-era were being honored.

“They’re amazing,” Woodard said. “We would not have won the war without them. They just dug in and started working when the nation needed them most. I hope we can do that as a nation if we ever need to.”

Wearing a red polka dot scarf and matching hat and a “We Can Do It” T-shirt bearing the iconic image of a flexed-arm woman war production worker, Fassold stood before the recently unveiled Vietnam War veterans memorial with a commemorative wreath at her side.

A red and white polka dot kerchief, like the one worn by the Rosie in the “We Can Do It” poster, was woven into the artificial flowers.

“We did the best we could because we knew our troops were counting on us,” Fassold said before reading a poem titled “They Were Rosies” to the group. One of the final lines of the poem was “After all these years, will anyone remember that they were Rosies?”

With tears in her eyes, Fassold said “Yes they will, because we’re here today on the first ever National Rosie the Riveter Day.”

Follow Alisha on Twitter @alisharoemeling. Email alisha.roemeling@registerguard.com .

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