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Huntington event honors state's Rosies

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- In 1945, in a Lockheed Aircraft Company factory in southern California, three sentences came over the intercom before Garnet Kozielec had even changed into her coveralls.

"War ends. Go home. See you tomorrow," a voice said.

Kozielec, a 96-year-old Dunbar resident and native of Guthrie, had been working in the factory for a year after transferring from Detroit, where she had been building B-24 bombers since graduating from high school.

"People just started screaming. I was running and sobbing," Kozielec said. "Everything that could make a noise made a noise -- church bells, fire trucks, people blowing horns. My goodness, you wouldn't believe it." 

Kozielec and many of her fellow "Rosies" will be honored today in a ceremony in Huntington organized by Thanks! Plain and Simple Inc., a nonprofit organization formed in 2005 to promote community engagement in West Virginia and beyond. Thanks! began the West Virginia Rosie the Riveter project as a way to chronicle the stories of women who worked in factories across the nation during World War II to fill the gaps left by men serving in the military.

The ceremony will include a documentary about West Virginia's Rosies, and members of Thanks! will unveil a glass mural that will be displayed at the Pullman Plaza Hotel in Huntington. The project also dedicated 2699 Park Ave. in Huntington the "Rosie the Riveter Building" Tuesday, making it the first state building in the nation named in honor of the Rosies.

Today's event will begin at 2:30 p.m. at the Pullman Plaza Hotel, on 1001 Third Ave. in Huntington. Living Rosies will be available to share their stories, and the glass artwork created by local high school students and supervised by Blenko Glass will be unveiled.

Anne Montague, executive director of Thanks!, said the organization tries to go beyond interviews and research to connect with people about the history and work of these women.

"For it to be sufficient for public understanding you have to get the public involved and you have to leave something behind, and that is what makes this project different," she said.

The project has interviewed more than 200 women, most of whom are in their 90s, and has collected stories from across the country. Thanks! Plain and Simple hopes to introduce a National Rosie the Riveter Movement by the fall to encourage other communities to actively find their Rosies and learn their stories, Montague said.

During the war effort, many citizens adopted the bluebird as a symbol of hope, aided by the "Bluebird of Happiness," a popular song written in 1934 by Sandor Harmati and Edward Heyman. Thanks! has begun giving bluebird houses with the names of living Rosies to schools and other institutions to serve as a reminder of the sacrifices Rosies have made serving the U.S., Montague said.

"The only rule we have is that you get to know a Rosie and let her tell you her story, and let her tell you why the bluebird is a symbol of hope," she said.

West Virginia is the first state with an organization that has systematically found and interview living Rosies and created projects to promote awareness of their history. Montague, whose mother was a worker during WWII, said she realized after her mother's passing the importance of learning more about the impact women like her made more than 70 years ago.

"The incredible thing is how many of these women are still able to talk about it so late in their lives," she said. "These people are bringing other Americans together. These people want to know these women, they love to hear from them; it's almost as though there has been something missing, and people are now realizing that what is missing is a fuller story."

For more information on Thanks! Plain and Simple or the West Virginia Rosie the Riveter Project, visit www.thanksplainandsimple.org.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.

 


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