Last month Linked Senior had the opportunity to interview 96-year-old Marilyn Joyce (Hearl) Nowak, one of the original “Rosie the Riveters.” In 1943, she was living in Michigan and just out of high school when at 18 years old she answered the call for women to enter the workforce as part of “The War Effort.” Before that time, her friends and family all called her Joyce and so she almost didn’t answer to Marilyn when they called her name on her first day as she waited in line for her toolbox. At that time she went to work on the assembly line making B-24 Liberator Bomber planes at the Ypsilanti Bomber Plant which was the largest defense plant in the world and owned by the Ford family during World War II. She shared with us that the women at the factory had to wear coveralls and cheese cloth bandanas over their hair while working. She shared that, “My Dad’s farm was only six miles from the factory and my youngest brother, who was 14 years old at the time, remembers the planes flying over the farm. A lot of those pilots testing the planes were actually women.”
In March 2016, the Ford Motor Company paid for 30 “Rosie the Riveters” to travel to Washington, D.C. as a way to honor them for their service during World War II. Marilyn shared that is was a very special trip and that they were welcomed at the airport by hundreds of people. They visited the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” in Arlington cemetery, had lunch at the Library of Congress and were interviewed by reporters about their experience.
When asked about what advice she would give to Americans today who are living through the COVID-19 pandemic, she focused on the importance of facing adversity head on and most importantly continuing to move forward even when times are difficult. During the War, Marilyn’s family (she had 11 siblings at the time) was unable to get sugar, coffee or butter and many items were rationed at that time. But she said, even with those difficulties, everyone did their part! Of her work in the factory she said, “It was a job that had to be done and we did it.”