A University of Northern Colorado graduate is leading a World War II initiative that's garnered interest from the likes of The Today Show, which is scheduled to air a segment on the project Dec. 7 as part of its Pearl Harbor Day coverage.
"‘Had it not been for women, we might very well have lost World War II,'" an Iwo Jima survivor once flatly told Anne Montague, who earned her master's degree from UNC in 1982. "And they, and a fascinating piece of history, have basically been ignored."
Montague is out to change that.
Through her West Virginia-based nonprofit, she's captured some of the stories of the estimated 6 million women referred collectively as "Rosie the Riveter." They served important roles on the home front to do "men's work" needed for the war effort from 1941-45.
With a group of surviving West Virginia "Rosies," as Montague calls them, she produced a documentary film, titled We Pull Together: Rosie the Riveters Then and Now, about their time during the war and being pioneers in the workforce. Montague and the women also designed and raised funds for Rosie the Riveter Park, which opened in May in the Charleston suburb of St. Albans.
She hopes the projects will serve as examples. She'd like to see communities from coast to coast locate and collaborate with Rosies on meaningful project of their choice - be it making quilts, having Rosies in classrooms or designing monuments.
Time is of the essence, though. Montague notes that the minimum age of the veterans is 85, and the process can be time consuming. For two years, Montague attempted to track down Rosies and found only one. She caught a break when the Charleston Gazette published a full-page color ad seeking Rosies to tell their stories. The ad ran on March 29, 2009 — a date etched into Montague's memory.
"They put my mom's picture in the ad," she says. Jessie Jacobs, a Rosie herself, worked in an optics factory that created such items as periscopes for ships. "She died at age 63 without my asking what she had done exactly."
That inspired Montague to start the project.
"I started crying, when I saw the ad. She became a pin-up for the project."
That ad eventually helped Montague identify and interview 170 Rosies in her home state — some of whom were later interviewed for the The Today Show.
The interviews have been illuminating. One of the Rosies told Montague that for months she didn't see sunlight for six straight days a week while working inspecting airplane parts in Cincinnati. She arrived before sunup and left at sundown with only a half day off on Sunday before returning to her job.
"It was really important for them to do the best job they could do. What they were doing was saving lives," Montague says.
Montague has coordinated events with the Rosies and the veterans who served overseas. Often it's the men who will open up and say something like, "you know, I never really thought about where the airplane came from" before expressing their gratitude.
"These women are part of the fuller story of World War II," Montague says, "and they pioneered the women's movement a generation later. They taught their daughters to be independent and get an education. Now they are showing what 90-year-old women can do with good support and guidance."
For more information, visit Montague's nonprofit at http://www.thanksplainandsimple.org/
- UNC News Service
Related: This story originally appeared in the fall/winter issue of Northern Vision, UNC's magazine for alumni and friends of the university. View the story's photo gallery and some notes about two other UNC alumna with military connections at http://www.unco.edu/northernvision/fall2012/rosies.html.