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Local women reminisce about supporting the war effort
Rosie the Riveters chapter gathers women who worked during World War II
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Lois Heaton talks about her experiences on the home front during World War II. - photo by Tom Reed

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Nell Young, Georgia director for the American Rosie the Riveter Association, talks about her wartime years working as a welder.

HOLLYWOOD - Like her male counterpart, Uncle Sam, Rosie the Riveter stirs up iconic images of American patriotism and everyone doing their part in a time of national crisis.

Rosie, however, was closer to reality in appearance, with sleeves rolled up and scarf tied around her head, proclaiming, "We can do it!"

Just ask Habersham County residents Lois Heaton and Nell Young, who contributed to the wartime effort themselves.

Now in their 80s, both women recall the work clothing as well as the hours, which were long and brutal as they, alongside other women, produced ships and planes for America's military during World War II.

"Women hung up their aprons in the kitchen and they went out drove the tractors and long trucks, things they never thought about," said Young, who serves as Georgia director for the American Rosie the Riveter Association.

Young and Heaton sat down last week over hamburgers and soft drinks at Reba's Buffet & Grill, just off U.S. 441/U.S. 23, to talk about the old days and the organization that strives to keep those memories alive.

And they reminisced with vivid detail.

Young was living in Florida during World War II and recalled someone visiting her high school trying to recruit workers.

"I was allowed to leave school and go for training, which did not take long," she said. "I passed all the tests. So, I went about six weeks to welding school and then I was classified as class A welder on ships."

Young had to travel by bus about 60 miles to the Wainwright Shipyard in Panama City, Fla., where she worked on emergency cargo ships built to replace shipping losses caused by German submarines.

She later moved in with an aunt and then at a boarding house.

She remembered one stretch when she worked 10 to 12 hours a day.

"We had to wear coveralls and on top of that was a raw leather (covering) and then a long-sleeve leather jacket," Young said. "And I had gloves that came up to the elbow. And then you had the scarf on your head and the hard hat.

"In the summer, it was between 110 and 120 degrees down (in the work area). We had a fan pulling out smoke and, as far as I know, I never had any after-effects from all that smoke."

Heaton, who grew up in Habersham County, was living in California with her brother when she worked at a factory that made panels for submarines.

"My brother's number came up and he was drafted," she said. "I would have been left out there by myself, so I decided to come back home. Daddy wouldn't let me plow with the tractor, so I went to Bell Aircraft to work."

Bell Aircraft in Marietta produced 663 B-29 bombers during the war, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

"I worked there until the war was over," Heaton said.

She recalls strong national loyalty.

"We worked hard for our freedom and we worked long hours," she said. "There wasn't much else to do right then. We were in a state of (economic) depression even then."

Both women said they believe Rosie the Riveter's story hasn't been told as much as it should, overshadowed by the larger events of World War II.

"Our story is going to be dead one of these days if people don't hear it," said Heaton, vice president of the Habersham chapter.

After moving to Georgia in 2003, Young began working to start a Rosie organization for Habersham County. Today, the group has about 30 members - nearly a third of them Rosies, some living in nursing homes.

Female descendants, known as "Rosebuds," also can join the association. Spouses and male relatives, known as "Rivets," can become auxiliary members.

"We need more people willing to step out, say, ‘I will start a chapter,' " Young said. "I will send them all the material they need."

Looking back over the years of wartime work, Heaton said, "I had a good time all the time. I was kind of carefree."

Both women, who later married war veterans, chuckled.

"I guess I felt somewhat that way," Young said. "I have no regrets and it was fun, in a way, because I had never lived off from home. And it was good money - they paid good. And I was able to send money home so my mother could buy for the three siblings still at home."

Young added, "I'm proud that I'm a Rosie."

One activity she hasn't touched much over the years, since the war ended, is welding. "I did a little bit, but not for pay," she said.

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