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World War II ‘Rosies’ to be honored with flight to D.C.

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

This story has been updated to reflect that U.S. Rep. Candice Miller is involved in the effort to recognize the original Rosie the Riveters.

When Jane Biestek moved to Michigan from a small town in Montana after her father died in an infamous 1943 mining blast, she didn’t realize she would be a part of group that would help the nation win World War II and redefine the roles of women in the workforce.

“After my father died in the (Smith Mine) explosion that killed 74 workers, it was hard for my mother to stay there,” Biestek said. “My uncle who lived in Michigan promised that he could find us jobs and that’s how I started working as a riveter.”

Now, more than 70 years later, Biestek, 91, of Dearborn and other Michigan women who worked in armament plants during the war will be flown to Washington in honor of their contribution to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.

While in the nation’s capital March 22, up to 50 original “Rosie the Riveters” will visit the World War II Memorial.

Talons Out Honor Flight, the southwest Michigan hub for the National Honor Flight Network, is partnering with the Yankee Air Museum and the Ford Motor Co. to give the Rosies the same Honor Flight experience as World War II servicemen.

Biestek worked at the Ford River Rouge plant, helping to build B-24 bombers, from 1943 to 1948. She left the plant after getting married and becoming pregnant with twin girls but still looks back fondly on her time on the assembly .

“I miss those days,” she said. “I can still remember the smell of the water outside of plant before walking into Gate Four every day, hanging outside waving to the sailors as they came in and working from 6 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon,” said Biestek. “I was responsible for riveting in the cockpit area of the plane. Me and the girls had a good system going. We were fast and efficient.”

Rosie the Riveter was a real woman named Rose Will Monroe, who worked at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory as a riveter. After Monroe was asked to be in a promotional film about war efforts in Michigan, women industrial workers were collectively called Rosie the Riveter.

The Willow Run Plant employed more than 42,000 workers during World War II, with one-third being women. At its peak, the plant produced more aircrafts in a month than Japan did in one year, earning the nickname America’s Arsenal of Democracy.

So far, 25 women are confirmed for the special flight, but Elizabeth McAdam, manager for the Ford Fund, the philanthropic portion of Ford Motor Co., said there are still spaces available for original Rosies.

“Since 2011, we have helped sponsor 10 flights and over 500 World War II veterans, but we are really excited because this will be our first flight honoring these really unique ladies,” McAdam said. “March is Women’s History Month and this is a great way to salute the women that helped drive the workforce, but also inspire young girls to pursue fields in science and technology.”

Last October, Michigan set the Rosie the Riveter Guinness World Record by having a whopping 2,096 women dressed as Rosies gathered at the former Willow Run Bomber Plant, part of which has been turned into a museum.

Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn and Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, are helping to recognize the achievements of Rosies because of the role they played in history.

“These women forever changed the course for women that entered the workforce. The freedom and power that they had helped to create social change,” Dingell said. “Having flights like this one preserves history and passes it on.”

“During one of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history, these trailblazing women not only built the armament that led the entire world to peace, but forever redefined the landscape of women in the workplace," Miller said in a statement. "I look forward to welcoming these ‘Original Rosies’ to Washington, D.C., to celebrate and honor them for their lasting contributions to this country.”

As Biestek recalls her years as a riveter, she tries not to dwell in the past.

“It’s nice to think about old stories and memories, but you have to keep progressing forward or else you will move backwards,” she said. “But, it’s a good feeling to know that I helped make an impact. Men did their part, but women did their share too.”

ksmith3@detroitnews.com

Calling all original Rosies

If you know an original Rosie who helped build bombers at Ford’s Willow Run Plant, or tanks, ships and munitions at other facilities during the war, contact Talons Out Honor Flight at (269) 273-4545, or email at info@talonsouthonorflight.org.

Applications must be submitted by March 17.