On November 28, 1941, Norma Tree gave birth to a baby boy in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her husband, Lewis Tree, was working in the Pearl Harbor shipyards as a civilian and missed the birth.
Nine days later, Lewis was already in the shipyards when planes started flying overhead, really, really low. Startled by the sound, Norma ran to the window and looked outside. What she saw frightened her like nothing she had ever seen — she saw planes with large red circles on the underbelly, planes from the Empire of Japan, flying low to the ground and heading to the harbor.
She grabbed her newborn and hid under the bed. Later that day, she could see smoke rising from the harbor and did not know if her husband was alive or dead. It was several days before her husband finally made it home. They were evacuated to the mainland and came to Salt Lake City, where Norma worked at Remington Arms rolling powder in 45mm machine gun primers.
Later, Norma, Lewis and baby Norman moved to Washington state, where Norma worked in the shipyards as a riveter. While working there, she gave birth to a daughter, Louise, and kept right on going. A granddaughter of LDS pioneers, she was a pioneer in her own right. She was one of many “Rosie the Riveters” and she was my grandmother. Little baby Norman became my dad.
During World War II, so many men left to fight in the war that millions of jobs stood vacant. More than six million women stepped up and went to work in factories, shipyards, banks, businesses and farms. They drove trucks, became streetcar conductors, made munitions, riveted together airplanes and ships, operated lathes, became chemical analysts, mechanics and engineers. Many of them did it while also raising families. Some 350,000 women joined the Armed Forces. Collectively, they’ve become known as “Rosies” and they played an indispensable role in the war.
The American Rosie the Riveter Association (ARRA) describes these women as among the greatest heroines in the United States. Women of color worked alongside white women, helping to overcome long-held policies of discrimination and, some theorize, helped lead to the Civil Rights movement a couple of decades later.
The iconic image of “Rosie the Riveter” with her red and white polka dot bandana, blue work shirt and flexed arm, with the phrase “We Can Do It!” continues to inspire women of all ages today.
One of those “Rosies,” Mae Krier, is 94 years old, and is still serving her country, this time by making red and white “Rosie” masks. She sews about eight hours a day and has made some 300, with 1,000 to go. And, she has another mission underway: to get Congress to recognize the Rosies with a Congressional Gold Medal. One medal would be made and then displayed in the National Museum of American History in recognition of the contributions of the millions of women who helped the U.S. and its allies win the war.
The House version, H.R. 1773, passed on a voice vote last November with one Utah representative co-sponsoring the legislation: Rep. Ben McAdams. It had a total of 293 co-sponsors: 229 Democrats and 64 Republicans. The Senate version, S. 892, is stalling for lack of support. It currently has 29 cosponsors — 20 Democrats and nine Republicans. Neither of Utah’s senators have signed on. It raises the question: Why not?
It’s time (OK, way past time) to honor the millions of women who played such important roles in winning World War II. Contact Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Mitt Romney and ask them to sign on as co-sponsors of S. 892, the “Rosie the Riveter Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019.” Do it for Mae. Do it for my grandma and the millions like her who are no longer with us. Do it for your daughters. With enough public support, I know “We Can Do It!”
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.