Thanks to Rosie and Josie

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

It’s an odd word — solder. It’s often mispronounced because the “l” is silent.

Solder usually looks like a simple roll of wire, but it is generally made of a metal like lead that melts at relatively low temperatures. Solder is used to fuse other metals together.

Soldering is a skill. Becoming an expert solderer takes a lot of time and practice. Not everyone is good at it.

Josie became an expert.

In the early 1940s, the men of America were being shipped all over the world to fight in World War II. Their absence left a huge gap in America’s efforts to produce the equipment needed to win the war.

All around the country, America’s women stepped up to fill the gap. They did an excellent job.

A famous picture was taken in Detroit of a hardworking woman driving rivets into an airplane. She was an attractive lady with muscular arms. It was obvious that she wasn’t afraid of hard work.

The media of the day published the photo and named her “Rosie the Riveter.” Soon, that name was used to describe any woman who took a factory job to keep American industry moving during the war years.

In Clinton County we had our share of Rosie the Riveters. Last month I had the honor of meeting one of our very own Rosie the Riveters.

She’s not Rosie. She’s Josie — and she did a lot more soldering than riveting.

Her name is Josephine Drake. Her daughter, Lynne, introduced us.

Josie is a bright-eyed, little, 95-year old lady. She smiles and laughs easily.

Despite her petite frame, 75 years ago Josie could work circles around most people. Her hard work in various Clinton County factories kept our soldiers equipped and ready to do their jobs. The work that Josie and the other women did made it possible for America to win the war.

In January 1943, Josephine started working at Carter Engineering. The plant was in what later became the old Senior Center in New Vienna. She worked with about 10 other women and a few men.

Together, they made parts for anti-aircraft guns. Before a part could be used, it went through a series of drill-presses that would fashion, cut and drill the parts into usable pieces of equipment that, when assembled, would become a weapon that brought down enemy aircraft.

With that, Josie helped save American lives.

Josephine remembers working with many dedicated, hard-working women. She remembers they were all “spunky.” She also remembers that although the women worked just as hard and got just as dirty, hot and sweaty as any man, they received only about half the pay.

Josephine worked with many other spunky women in various county factories. She remembers getting along well with the other female factory workers, but they were all irritated by some of the other women. Those were the “respectable women” in the community; women that looked down on the factory workers. Those women wouldn’t have anything to do with Josie and her co-workers because they “had to work.”

Josephine’s days were filled with welding, soldering, drilling and assembling equipment. Besides working at Carter Engineering, she also worked at Wells Manufacturing, Brown-Brockmeyer and Ledex. The factory work took a toll on her hearing.

Josie laughed as she recalled working at Wells Manufacturing. She still thinks it’s funny that they would sell Jacks and Rubber Balls without any instructions on how to play the game. If anyone wanted to learn how to play “Jacks” they would need to mail in 10 cents, and she would send them a short instruction sheet. They made money selling Jacks and instructions to the same person.

Later, Josephine worked at Ledex making switches for the military. The switches were used to activate the bomb-release mechanisms. If her switches didn’t work, the bombs might not drop. Pilots didn’t want to land if the plane still had a belly-full of bombs.

They also made switches that were used by NASA and the space program. Everyone in the plant knew they had to get it right the first time. Lives depended on it.

While the men fought in the war, women ran the machinery that cranked out the supplies they needed. When the men came home, many of the women lost their jobs to the men they had replaced. That was just a fact that the women grew to accept.

The war years were hard on everyone. The soldiers and sailors risked injury and death, while the women they left behind took their places in the factories and on the assembly lines. It was a hard life.

Without Rosie the Riveter and Josie the Solderer, the production of the weapons and machinery that was needed to defeat our enemies would have stalled or stopped.

Thank you to all the Rosies, and a special thanks to Josephine.

You all helped win the war. Thanks.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist