Rosie the Riveter
Written by Christine Milano
Photography by Vicky Beal
Move Over Rosie the Riveter...Meet Louise, the Welder
Being the rebel that I was, I was not going to be a nurse. I was an artist and I stood firm on my ground THAT was my destination. Oh, poor mom, she was so frustrated with me! As idealistic as I was, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed it forever changed me and the America I loved. Fear seemed to ooze from the very canvasses that once were my haven. I put down my brushes and picked up a welding rod and goggles and entered welding school my senior year in high school answering the call that went out to all women to support our troops and the war in whatever way we could contribute.
Upon graduation, I began welding on Navy contracts. Within three months, I became part of the research group researching aluminum welding procedures on depth-charge canisters. I learned quickly and was assigned to train the teams, mostly males, of proper welding techniques. More Navy contracts followed and my team begin welding triggering devices, 155 millimeter gun parts, hatch covers— well, you get the idea. Unheard of for a woman, I was promoted to Working Foreman, teaching Navy Certified Welding to employees in the evenings on acetylene, electric arc and heliarc®.
Little did I know at the time, but this was the beginning of many twists. While building jet target planes, there he was—standing there as if a spotlight was upon him—the retired, renowned Arctic Explorer, Admiral Byrd, working as an advisor to the Navy. He was touring the plant. To use a young person’s term...OMG! He was walking toward me. I looked around; could he really be walking toward me? He stopped in front of me, stuck out his hand and introduced himself. He talked to me at length about welding, asking many questions. Shortly thereafter, I received an invitation to attend an event for the Washington representatives. I had to decline.
So here I stand years later, reminiscing, as a guest, in attendance at the September 2011 United States Submarine Veterans National Convention in Springfield, Missouri. I was surrounded by a sea of heroes wearing vests covered with the names, numbers, ribbons, braids, pins, patches and emblems that signify courage and bravery. My part during World War II seemed so insignificant in the big picture. When the war began, I was in high school, later welding depth charges, the very bombs used against the enemy submarines lurking within the depths of the sea. At the time, we knew the enemy and the challenges we faced; each person experiencing a private hell. However, it’s a different world now, more sinister, with different challenges and dangers to be met. Veterans of all ages and wars are here.
I was now rubbing shoulders with those ever-elusive Superheroes of the Sea—Angels of the Deep. They searched, watched, listened, and assisted in missions of the most dangerous nature; missions unknown to the public and now sealed within government records—and all conducted under less than desirable conditions for our nation’s peace, safety, and freedom. The unsung,unspoken stories cannot be shared with us mere civilians; they are only shared amongst themselves. These are the men, after studying and training, who qualified for service on nuclear and conventional powered submarines during the cold war years. This was a service that would deter the faint-hearted—all contained within a hull each would call their home, miles under the surface of the ocean. At the forefront of survival was the constant vigilance of the radar, surveying the sea around them for other steel life...bleep...bleep...bleep...a fellow submarine, a surface ship, and those days, when, Godforbid, it was a depth charge coming straight toward them. Dive! Dive! The sirens screamed across the loudspeakers. Would this be the time when they would become another sinking statistic, to be forever buried deep in the sea—a sealed casket—some never to be recovered? Valor, bravery, and courage are not words; they are in the faces of these Submarine Veterans.
I know I will never know the story of each Veteran. I do want to thank each one, in my own humble way, expressing how grateful I am for their sacrifice for our freedom. May each of you always be carried to safety and back to your families.