Commonwealth Journal

April 1, 2014

Rosie Remembered

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Detroit, Mich. —

 An aerospace foundation group says $1.5 million is needed by next month to save the Willow Run Bomber Plant west of Detroit where a Science Hill woman, dubbed “Rosie the Riveter,” became an icon for millions of women working in defense during World War II.
  Rose Will Monroe was born in Science Hill in 1920. She moved to Michigan in 1942 during World War II and worked at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Monroe was one of several women who were called “Rosie the Riveter,” but the Pulaski County woman played herself in a promotional film about the war effort. 
Popular during a bleak period when the world was at war was the song, “Rosie the Riveter:”
 
All the day long,
Whether rain or shine
She’s part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory
Rosie the Riveter
 
The Science Hill native happened to best fit the description of the worker depicted in the song. Her name “Rose” was one of the factors leading to her selection to star in the film.
Monroe left Science Hill and went to Michigan shortly after her husband was killed in a car wreck. She was determined to find work at the Willow Run airplane plant in Ypsilanti, Mich. She got a job, most of the time working as a riveter in 1942 and 1943.
During this time Norman Rockwell depicted Monroe for the Saturday Evening Post and she became famous as a war bond promoter. Films and posters were used to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort.
Although women performed what had been male-dominated roles in plants all over the country during the war, it was Monroe, who was one of an untold number of women in the Willow Run plant's 40,000-person workforce, who caught the eye of Hollywood producers casting a "riveter" for a government film about the war effort at home.
Flying was Monroe’s passion and she became a pilot after she was in her 50s. She died May 31, 1997 from injuries sustained in an airplane accident in Indiana in 1978. The accident severely damaged her kidneys and she was on dialysis.
The Associated Press said a group, trying to save the Detroit-area factory, must raise $1.5 million during the next few weeks to save the site from being demolished.
Those behind the Save the Bomber Plant campaign said they have raised $6.5 million of the $8 million they need by May 1 to buy the Willow Run Bomber Plant. They want to convert the factory where Monroe and other workers built B-24 bombers into a museum dedicated to aviation and the countless other Rosies who toiled at similar U.S. plants to aid the war effort.
 The group has received several extensions by which to acquire a portion of the old plant, but the time has come to either raise the necessary money or see it relegated to the history books, said Dennis Norton, the president of the Michigan Aerospace Foundation and one of the leaders of the effort to save the plant.
"They need an answer from us," Norton said, referring to the trust set up to oversee properties owned by a pre-bankruptcy General Motors. "Demolition is under way, and they can't stop demolishing the plant, then come back later."
Norton and his team want to separate and preserve 175,000 square feet of the Ypsilanti Township, Mich., site and convert it into a new, expanded home for the Yankee Air Museum, which would move from its current location less than 2 miles away. Included would be the 150-foot-wide doors through which thousands of bombers left the plant to play their role in winning the war.
Although many Rosies were let go once the war was over and the soldiers returned home, they had shown that women were capable of doing jobs that had traditionally been done by only men.
The Willow Run factory went back to making automobiles after the war ended, and it did so for more than a half-century under the General Motors name before closing for good in 2010.
Monroe was just one of 6 million American women who entered the workforce during World War II, about half of them in the defense industries.
But she came to represent them all.