A West Virginian Rosie recalls riveting during World War II

HUNTINGTON (AP) — At 98, Lessie Moses of Milton has gone by many names during her lifetime.

She’s been a wife, a mother, a seamstress, a farmer, a doctor’s bookkeeper, a teacher, a storyteller and more.

But of all these names, Moses said there is one that sticks out and shaped her entire life.

That name is Rosie the Riveter.

Looking back on her life, Moses said she had no idea that her two years perched on top of wing flaps would come to mean so much not just to her family and town but to her state as well as the entire country.

“We just done it as a job,” she said. “It had to be done, and we did it.”

Now known as a symbol of women empowerment and American feminism, Moses said she could not be prouder to bear the name Rosie the Riveter as one of the millions of women who flocked to factories during World War II to do their part for the war effort.

“You see the picture with Rosie and the fist and ‘We Can Do It’ – that’s the way we felt,” she said. “We felt we could do anything they wanted us to do, even if it was men’s work. And we did it, too.”

Early life

Born in 1919 to Chloe and James Albert Hatfield, Moses is the eldest of eight siblings – three brothers and five sisters.

Growing up in Milton, Moses said her father told the family stories about his time as a soldier fighting in World War I.

“He was proud to have fought,” she said. “He was in the cavalry. He worked with horses in the war and then again when he got home.”

Moses said it was her father’s patriotism and pride for his country that made her later job as a Rosie the perfect fit.

“We were just a patriotic family,” she said. “We were raised to be tough, and so I think it wasn’t hard for us to fit right in to the army because my dad had been through it, and he made us kids tough.”

Even before the Rosie “We Can Do It!” posters, Moses said her father was the one who told her she could do anything.

“‘Get out and do it,’ he’d say.”

In January 1937, Moses married Owen Moses, just five months before graduating from Milton High School.

“I was an old married woman when I graduated,” she said with a laugh.

After graduation, Moses spent the next 11 years moving from place to place with her husband doing a number of odd jobs.

She said a few of those years were spent in Huntington where she worked with some of her sisters as a seamstress, sewing army uniforms at manufacturing company called Casey Jones.

Becoming a riveter

In 1943, with their 2-year-old daughter Pauletta, Moses and her husband traveled to Canton, Ohio, where she found her calling as a Rosie. She was also joined by three of her sisters, Essie Clagg, Violet Meadows and Myrtle Chapman.

“It was a big thing,” she said.

Though Rosies were tasked with a number of jobs during World War II, Moses said she was a true riveter because her job included riveting airplane wing flaps and bomb bay doors from huge sheets of metal.

“I didn’t even know what a bomb bay was,” she said. “When I went and got the job they showed me. They got the rivet gun and the drill, and they showed me how to use it, and they said, ‘Now you just climb up on those scaffolds and every little indent you put a rivet.'”

For the next two years, Moses said she worked side by side with her sister Essie on top of large airplanes.

“We were Lessie and Essie,” she said. “I’d be on one side of the plane and she’d be on the other … I made the hole with the drill, then I’d put the rivet gun there and shoot a rivet in the hole and she had to be back there with a metal bar and she bucked the rivets.”

Though she was the one using the power tools, Moses said she felt her sister had the tougher of the two jobs.

“It was tough work,” Moses said.

While she worked, Moses said she and her husband took turns looking after their daughter.

Moses’ husband worked at the Westinghouse Naval Ordnance where he made elevating screws, a mechanism which allowed guns to be lowered and raised on ships.

“We just traded shifts,” she said. “I worked and he kept the baby, or he worked and I kept the baby.”

Because of the importance of his job, Moses said her husband was deferred several times before being called up to the Navy in 1944.

Two of her brothers, also fought in World World II – James Albert Hatfield II, who was a Marine, and Robert Hatfield, who served in the Army.

Though she and her sisters didn’t carry a rifle or travel overseas, Moses said they didn’t think their job was any less important.

“We thought we was going to win the war just the same as those boys carrying the guns,” she said. “That’s what they told us, they said, ‘We need you women because we can’t get men, and you girls will just have to help us win this war.'”

LIFE AFTER WWII

Following the conclusion of World War II, Moses and her family returned to Milton where her husband built the home she still lives in to this day on Newman Branch Road, a few miles outside the city limits.

Despite pleas from her family in Ohio to move closer to relatives, Moses said she can’t see herself living anywhere else.

“The house has just always been home,” she said.

With her days atop airplanes now behind her, Moses said she found work at the former C&O Hospital as a doctor’s bookkeeper, a job she kept for the next 32 years before retiring in 1989 at the age of 70.

During that time, she said she and her husband also served as a teacher of sorts to schoolchildren who would visit their home, which was filled with all number of farm animals.

“For 30 years we had a farm out there that the schoolkids visited by the busloads,” she said. “You name it we had it – chickens, goats, sheep, cows, ponies, llama and rheas.”

In addition to showing children chicks hatching from their eggs and what it was like to milk a cow, Moses said she also told stories about her time as a Rosie the Riveter.

ONCE A ROSIE,

ALWAYS A ROSIE

Though she’s never forgotten about her work as a riveter to help aid in the war effort, Moses said it was decades before Rosies started getting any type of recognition.

Even her own daughter, Pauletta Evans, said it wasn’t until her teenage years that she learned about Rosie the Riveters.

“When I really realized what she had done, I was probably in high school when it really dawned on me when I realized what women had done for the war,” Evans, 78, said. “I remember reading in class about the war and the riveters, and I came home and asked mom, and mom said, ‘I was a riveter,’ and then she told me about it, and I’ve heard about it ever since.”

Moses said it has only been in the past few years that she has been called on to speak to groups about her time as a riveter.

In January, she also was recognized by the Milton Rotary Club and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va, during a luncheon at Shonet’s Country Cafe in Milton.

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