“Rosies” honored at Charleston program
By Alex Thomas, WV MetroNews
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If she had complied with the law, Anna Hess would likely not have worked for Mohawk Industries during World War II.
“I told a little white lie,” she said. “I went to work when I was 15 years old.”
Telling factory officials she was 18, Hess began building tire bands for trucks that would be used overseas by Allied troops.
Now 89, Hess was among 25 World War II female workers who were recognized Thursday in Charleston for their roles in manufacturing equipment for the American military and its allies.
The female workers were referred to as “Rosie the Riveters,” named after a government campaign to encourage women to take a manufacturing job,
Hess said she grew up in “back in the head of one of the hollows” in Roane County. She still remembered the local reaction to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“The next morning, almost every young man in the neighborhood left for the draft board to volunteer for the service,” she said.
Hess’ four brothers and father left their Roane County home to Akron, Ohio, to work in the defense plant. Hess, her mother and her sister left months later, with Hess going to school and her mom getting a job riveting wings on aircraft, specifically B-29s.
Hess learned of a job opportunity at the nearby tire plant from a classmate in 1943.
“I went in and told them I was 18 years old,” she added.
Hess worked at the tire factory for two months — turning 16 during this period — before her secret became known.
“A general manager called me in and said, ‘I hear you need a working permit,'” she laughed. “He gave me a working permit and said, ‘Young lady, you get out there and you get to work.'”
Thanks! Plain and Simple held the event at the Women’s Club of Charleston. The organization started its “Rosie the Riveter” program in 2011, with volunteers interviewing the women to learn their stories
West Virginia Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, served as the event chairperson. She said honoring and listening to these women is important, especially given the limited amount of time.
“We needed to officially recognize them as a state before any more were gone,” Fleischauer said. “We had been planning this for about six months, and two of the women that we identified as likely able to come died.”
Fleischauer said each “Rosie” has a story about perseverance and unity that needs to be known for future generations.
“We need to hear that it’s time to come together,” she said. “We need to pull together because we’re a country and we need to act like a country that’s one united.”
Hess’ story in Akron continued after the war. She stayed and manufactured tires for passenger vehicles, though shifts at the plant did change; the war schedule of three eight-hour shifts became four six-hour shifts to provide jobs for returning soldiers.
“I saw this young man coming into work with us one day and we hadn’t seen any good-looking young men for a young time,” she said.
The man was who would end up being her late husband, Franklin. He had joined the National Guard and was stationed in Alaska when Pearl Harbor happened. He joined the plant in 1946.
“Eight months (after we met), I married him,” she said, smiling.
The Hesses worked at the plant until 1948, when they moved to Morgantown, Franklin’s hometown.
Anna Hess said she was touched by the recognition of the “Rosies,” and hope the young women of 2017 understand the sacrifices of those who came before them.
“Our generation opened up the jobs for women and the things they learned they could do after seeing what women during World War II did,” she said.
Fleischauer said interviews with the women are being completed and the recordings will later be archived.