The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

October 14, 2013

Women recall service as ‘Rosies’

“We never saw a window. They must have had them painted black,” said 91-year-old Beckley native Rosalee Sutyak.

She sat in a wooden rocking chair as she reminisced on the days of the early 1940s when she left her jewelry and handbag on her dresser before leaving to catch the bus to work.

Rosalee was 22 years old when she worked at a steel plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., during the World War II efforts that called for women to swap their skirts for slacks in order to man machinery. These women were known as “Rosies,” or Rosie the Riveters, and without them, some question whether the U.S. and the Allied Forces really would have won the war.

“We couldn’t carry anything in or out,” she said. “They would even check our picture each day before we went in.”

Sutyak worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant, which at the time was the largest factory in the world, switching from producing Ford automobiles to B-24 Liberator bombers at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt. Nearly 9,000 attack aircraft were made at Willow Run during World War II.

Women discovered a new sense of empowerment during WWII. As the majority of men were called to serve in the war effort, the women stepped up, proving themselves completely capable of performing work that only men had done up until that time.

Sutyak worked as a “bucker,” the counterpart to a riveter. While riveters used a gun to shoot rivets to fasten sheet metal together from the outside, their bucker counterpart would be on the receiving end, inside the plane wing, using an instrument called a bucking bar to smooth out the rivets.

“I guess they put me inside of there because I was skinny,” Sutyak said. “And let me tell you one thing, it was hot.”

Once inside the wing, Sutyak pulled a light behind her to be able to see, and the riveter and bucker could only communicate through knocking.

“When I got to where I was going I would tap once, then I would tap twice when I was ready to do it,” she said.

“I made 68 cents an hour, and that was big money at the time,” she said.

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