Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park, Richmond California

Contra Costa County, California

18 December 2009

This page assembled by Neil Mishalov


What is the Rosie the Riveter Memorial?

The Rosie the Riveter Memorial: Honoring American Women's Labor During WWII, is the first national monument to celebrate and interpret women's crucial contributions to the World War Two Home Front. It is located in Richmond, CA, in Rosie the Riveter Memorial Park at the site of the former Kaiser Shipyard number 2. the Kaiser Shipyards were the largest and most productive of World War II. 747 ships were produced at Kaiser, Richmond, during World War II.


What does the Memorial Commemorate?

The Memorial commemorates and interprets the important contributions that women made to the war effort as increasing numbers of men joined the armed services. Over 6 million women from all backgrounds, and from all over the country, worked at jobs that challenged traditional notions of women's capabilities and ensured American productivity that helped to win the war. The sight of women outfitted in overalls and wielding industrial tools became an icon that was popularized in the 1942 song, "Rosie the Riveter," providing a nickname for all women who worked in war-time industries. Across the nation women worked in defense industries and support services including shipyards, steel mills, foundries, lumber mills, warehouses, offices, hospitals and daycare centers.


Why is the Memorial in Richmond, California?

War-time upheaval affected all of the U.S., but changed California and the San Francisco Bay Area profoundly. Some historians have called the WWII-era California's "Second Gold Rush" for its role in transforming the population, economy and even physical landscape of the state. No city felt these effects more than Richmond, which went from a small town to a booming city hosting the largest number of defense industries and war housing projects in the country. To fill these industrial jobs, employers needed to hire a broader range of workers, including women and people of color. Women of all ages and ethnicities came to Richmond to find new, better-paying jobs throughout the war. Their labor on "Liberty" and "Victory" ships played a role in America's remarkable productivity during the war years.


How Many Women Worked at the Richmond Shipyards?

At the height of the war, women made up approximately 27% of the 93,000-strong Richmond Kaiser shipyard workforce. In other industries, women made up to 80% of the workers.

There are no remaining employment records of all of the Kaiser shipyard employees. They are working to create a list of women who worked at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards and they currently have a database of over 200 names of women who worked as welders, drafters, truck drivers, first aid nurses and other jobs.


Female workers at Richmond Shipyard No. 3 about 1944. At left, a shipfitter's helper, at right, a steel checker.


What does the Memorial Look Like?

At 441-feet long, the Memorial reflects the length of the Liberty Ships produced at the Kaiser Shipyards. A walk leading visitors to a lookout at the water's edge includes a timeline of facts related to the Home Front period, along with memories gathered from individual women about their wartime experience. Sculptural elements representing features of a Liberty Ship are positioned along the walk and hold large panels depicting photographs, letters, and other memorabilia reflecting war work performed by women throughout the nation.



The Memorial


Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park

Map 1



1 - Richmond Kaiser Shipyard #3

12 - Rosie the Riveter Memorial

2 - Ford Assembly Building/Visitor Center

13 - Barbara and Jay Vincent Park

4 - Sheridan Observation Point

14 - Shimada Friendship Park

11 - Lucretia M. Edwards Park

15 - Bay Trail / Esplanade

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Park, Richmond California

In 1998, then-Richmond Councilwoman Donna Powers asked for Congressman George Miller's help in gaining landmark status for the Rosie the Riveter Memorial. She believed that the resulting roadside markers might bring more attention and visitors to the monument to learn about women's experience during WWII. The response to Powers' simple request has grown into an exciting proposal for a new "Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park," incorporating the former Kaiser Shipyards area along Richmond's waterfront and additional historic resources elsewhere in the city.

As stewards for many of the nation's historic sites, the National Park Service (NPS) was directed by Miller to evaluate the national significance of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial and to make a recommendation on its appropriateness as an affiliated area of the Park Service. NPS staff visited Richmond in December 1998 for a tour of the Memorial site and additional historic structures left from the WWII era. To our delight, they quickly shared our belief that the exciting history of Richmond's wartime contributions could support an even larger vision than the Rosie the Riveter Memorial.

Over the next year, the Park Service worked with City staff and representatives to develop a proposal for a National Historical Park that will become the premier site for interpreting Home Front America, a chapter of the WWII-experience that the Park Service had not yet been adequately told at any of its other locations. Along with the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, the National Historical Park will include additional historic interpretation along the waterfront and remaining war-time structures such as Kaiser Yard #3, the original Kaiser Field Hospital, workers' housing and two still-operating daycare centers that served workers' children during the war. The craneway of the historic Ford Assembly Building, which will begin renovation later this year, will house the Park's centerpiece -- a Home Front Visitors and Educational Center using artifacts, exhibitions and new technologies to interpret the contributions of everyday Americans here and across the nation during WWII.

Legislation authorizing the "Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park" was submitted by Congressman Miller and by Senators Boxer and Feinstein in March. Hearings before the House of Representatives were held on May 16th. If Congress authorizes the establishment of the Park, the National Park Service, the City of Richmond, the newly-established Rosie the Riveter Trust, and other local partners will enter into a general management plan for developing and maintaining the Park. Work will begin on the design for the Home Front Visitor's Center, with completion targeted for 2002 when the building's renovation is to be finished.

The Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park will make Richmond a premier site for cultural tourism in the Bay Area and will enhance the planning and resources the City has put into Marina Bay/South Shoreline over the last 20 years. Bringing historical interpretation to open spaces and historic structures will make this area an even richer experience and more attractive destination for people who live in and visit Richmond. This plan will bring that history alive for residents and visitors to the City and will illustrate Richmond's proud history as a center for industrial production during WWII. We are pleased that the National Park Service has recognized what an important story we have to tell here, and grateful for their interest in helping us to tell it.


Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park

Map 2




1 - Richmond Kaiser Shipyard #3

A - Rosie the Riveter Memorial

2 - Ford Assembly Building/Visitor Center

C - Cafeteria

3 - Oil House

D-Dry/Graving Docks

4 - Sheridan Observation Point

F - Ferry Terminal

5 - Kaiser Permanente Field Hospital

G - General Warehouse

6 - Child Development Center

M - Machine Shop 

7 - Atchison Village House 

S - Sheet Metal Shop 

8 - S.S.Red Oak Victory Ship (Proposed Mooring)

V - Crane Way/WWII Home Front Visitor Center  

9 - Richmond Fire Station No. 67A  

10 - Whirley Crane Sites - (Proposed)

11 - Lucretia M. Edwards Park  


This aerial view of Richmond, looking northwest around 1930, shows the marshy area south of Cutting Boulevard that would become Kaiser Shipyard Number 1. Shipyard Number 1 began producing Liberty ships before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; it was first comissioned to produce 30 Liberty Ships for the British Government. Richmond before the war was a small industrial town with a Standard Oil refinery (in the distance), a Ford assembly plant, (construction started in 1929, and Ford cars were first manufactured in 1931), and a Pullman Company repair yard. During the war, the Ford assembly plant was used to manufacture military vehicles; more than 60,000 tanks were assembled at the Richmond Ford assembly plant. After the war, the plant switched back to civilian vehicles, and made Ford cars until 1959 when Ford manufacturing was relocated to Milpitas, California.




The four Kaiser yards with 27 shipways, seen here at the peak of production in 1944.


 Kaiser yards 1, 2 and 3 in 1943.

Rosie The Riveter Bill Awaits President Clinton's Signature


By Carolyn Lochhead, Washington Bureau,, October 7, 2000

The U.S. Senate approved establishing a "Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historic Park'' in Richmond, sending the bill to the White House for enactment.

The Rosie the Riveter historic site is intended to honor U.S. workers on the "home front'' during World War II, where domestic industry provided the backing for the U.S. military effort. The war effort and resulting labor shortages drew millions of women and minorities into the U.S. workforce.

Sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the bill will "particularly recognize the significant changes in the lives of women and minorities that occurred during that era,'' Miller said.

"Rosie the Riveter'' and "Wendy the Welder'' were war-effort symbols made famous in posters by noted illustrator Norman Rockwell.

Miller said he hopes President Clinton will sign the bill in time for an October 14 dedication of the Rosie Memorial in Richmond.


President Clinton Signs the Legislation


October 25, 2000


ROSIE GETS HER NATIONAL PARK AS CLINTON SIGNS MILLER'S BILL WASHINGTON - A new Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park will rise from the former Kaiser shipyards and other wartime industrial and community sites in Richmond, California as a result of President Clinton having signed into law late last night legislation by Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez) to establish the park.

A pen used in the signing ceremony, together with an embossed copy of the legislation, will be presented to the National Park Service for display in the Park's Visitors' Center, which will be located in the former Ford Assembly Building in Richmond. "I am very pleased that the first national site to fully focus on the enormous contributions and sacrifices of Americans on the Home Front to the victorious WWII effort will be located in Richmond, California," said Miller.

Richmond was selected for the park because it has many intact buildings that were constructed for 56 wartime industries. Its four shipyards produced 747 large ships and set production records. The Home Front changed Richmond from a predominantly white community of 23,600 residents to a diverse population of over 100,000 people within a year. Industries operated around the clock and public housing, schools, day care centers, health care and merchants mobilized to support the new workforce that arrived on the city's doorstep. Fortunately, Richmond's turbulent and productive Home Front years were well chronicled and photographed. "Only two years ago, we authorized the study of the park; today, it is a reality, and it will continue to teach Americans about the importance of these people and this city for generations to come," Miller said.

The presidential action comes on the heels of a ceremony unveiling a memorial in Richmond to the six million women who labored on the Home Front who are symbolized by Rosie the Riveter, on the Richmond waterfront and within the new National Historical Park. Over 700 people, including over a hundred former "Rosies," city leaders, civic activists and Congressman Miller participated in the dedication of the Memorial on October 14th.

Miller said that his bill was greatly aided by the support of Mayor Rosemary Corbin, City Councilman Tom Butt, former City Councilwoman Donna Powers, activist Donna Graves, Ray Murray of the National Park Service, and others. Under the terms of the legislation, the National Park Service will work with the local Rosie the Riveter Memorial Project Committee and city officials to restore and maintain key features of the World War II shipbuilding complex including historic buildings, dry docks, and related facilities. The Park Service will provide interpretive services at a variety of sites and operate a Visitor Center in the craneway of the Ford Assembly Building.

The Park will function as a National Park Service National Historical Site. Most of the properties will continue to be owned by the City of Richmond. Miller noted that the designation is part of a broader effort to preserve and commemorate key sites that played a significant part in American history. "Preservation is not only for parks and wilderness areas," said Miller, senior member of the House Resources Committee. "We are also committed to using our resources to preserve historic sites that help tell the story of America's development, and the Rosie the Riveter/Home Front National Historical Park will stand as a lasting tribute to these brave women who played such a crucial role in winning the war."


Rosie The Riveter Memorial



'Rosie the Riveter' Honored in California Memorial


By Patricia Leigh Brown,, October 22, 2000

RICHMOND, Calif., Oct. 17-- It has been more than half a century since the photographer Dorothea Lange came to the bustling wartime shipyards of this long-beleaguered city across the Bay from San Francisco to chronicle the lives of real-life "Rosie the Riveters."

"I'd never worked in my life," Phyllis McKey Gould, now 79, recalled this week as she stood beside the new "Rosie the Riveter" memorial here, on the site of Kaiser shipyard No. 2. Mrs. Gould and thousands of other women came to the Kaiser shipyards to work as welders and shipfitters in the war effort.

"I loved the look of welding, the smell of it," Mrs. Gould said. "You'd look through really dark glass and all you'd see was the glow. You moved the welding rod in tiny, circular motions, making half-crescents. If you did it right, it was beautiful. It was like embroidery."

The memorial, built by the city and incorporating memories and photographs of Mrs. Gould and other women in its design, is the first national monument dedicated to women who worked on the World War II home front. About 200 women who worked at the shipyards here attended the dedication.


Some of the former naval shipyard welders who visited the "Rosie the Riveter" memorial, which was recently dedicated at Richmond, Calif. Returning to the site of their World War II efforts were, from left, Bethena Moore, Phyllis McKey Gould, Charles Etta Turner and Constance Reid.


Although Rosie the Riveter was a fictitious character, the image of a musclebound woman in overalls became an enduring wartime icon, embodying the nation's can-do spirit, and was popularized in posters, war- bond promotions and the 1942 song, "Rosie the Riveter."

But in Richmond, Rosie was real. "After they bombed Pearl Harbor, the next thing you heard was, `There's shipbuilding in California,' " said Bethena Moore, now 83, who moved from Derrider, La., where she had been a laundry worker, to become a welder. A diminutive 110 pounds, she was given the dangerous task of climbing down a narrow steel ladder, tethered to a welding machine, four stories into the ships' double-bottoms.

"It was dark, scary," she said. "It felt sad, because there was a war on. You knew why you were doing it - the men overseas might not get back. There were lives involved. So the welding had to be perfect."

At the war's height, women, many of them African-American, made up more than a quarter of the shipyards' 90,000 workers. From 1942- 1945, nearly 500,000 African-Americans migrated to California, about 15,000 to Richmond alone.

It was the "largest voluntary black westward migration in the nation's history," said Dr. Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, a history professor at California State University in Sacramento and the author of the recently published book, "To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California 1910- 1963" (University of California Press). With the opening of the Kaiser shipyards in 1942, Richmond was home to the greatest concentration of shipbuilding in the nation.

Like many of Richmond's Rosies, Mrs. Moore was technically not a riveter. Riveting, a laborious, highly skilled task, was replaced at the Kaiser shipyards by faster prefabrication techniques during the war. Her arms, like those of many women shipyard workers, still bear tiny white scars from "metal sparkles," hot slag that fell into her sleeves and gloves as she welded overhead. Many, including Mrs. Moore, still carry their timeworn welding certificates in their wallets.



Former Richmond Naval shipyard welder Phyllis McKey Gould's original ID badge.


Her photograph is part of the memorial, designed by Cheryl Barton, a landscape architect, and Susan Schwartzenberg, an artist, which is intended to recall the unfinished frame of a Liberty ship, the type of troop and cargo vessels built here.

Women's words are embedded in a granite walkway, which stretches 441 feet toward the water - the length of a Liberty ship - "to commemorate the scale at which women worked," Ms. Barton said. Native rock roses, "a tough variety," she said, line the path.

The war forever changed Mrs. Moore and others. "Anybody could have done what I was doing in Louisiana," she said of operating pressing machines at a laundry. "Building a ship was a different feeling."

The war also profoundly changed Richmond (population 94,000), one of the Bay Area's least-affluent communities. It was transformed practically overnight from a sleepy rural community of 23,600 to an industrial metropolis of more than 100,000, where the wartime production included tanks and torpedoes.

Over the years the city has suffered from a variety of urban ills, including high poverty and crime rates, and industrial pollution. The closing of the shipyards after the war left a host of issues with which the city is still grappling. Fifteen percent of the city's population, which is 44 percent African-American, 36 percent white and 12 percent Latino, lives below the poverty level.

"In some respects," notes Charles Wollenberg, a historical consultant with The Oakland Museum, "it's taken Richmond until now to recover from World War II."


Former Richmond Naval shipyard welder Bethena Moore's original welders card from the Richmond Navel shipyard.


As the new economy finally takes root here - with technology and biotechnology companies moving in - the memorial represents a coming to terms with the past. "We paid a big price for the war," said Donna Powers, the former Richmond City Council member who led the Rosie memorial effort, inspired by her mother-in-law, a Kaiser day care worker in the war.

"Instead of playing down what happened here, we're starting to look at it as something remarkable." She combed neighborhoods and put up notices looking for former Rosies. Hundreds of women came forward.

The city began redeveloping the site of the old shipyard No. 2 in the late 1970's, spending $15 million on the cleanup. The memorial may be only a beginning. Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill authorizing the establishment of a Rosie the Riveter/WW2 Home Front National Historical Park here. The proposed park would include and occupy historical structures, including a sprawling brick Ford assembly building and the crumbling concrete docks of Kaiser shipyard No. 3.

Time is of the essence, as the women whose memories are welded with wartime experience age. All the remaining Rosies "are getting on towards 80 years old," said Frances Tunnell Carter, who founded the American Rosie the Riveter Association in Birmingham, Ala., two years ago. The group is a national network with more than 600 members. "It's almost too late," she said.

For the Rosies of Richmond, among them Charles Etta Turner, 77, who moved from Denison, Tex., to work as a shipfitter, who positioned the parts for welding, the memorial is cause to rethink a part of their lives that until recently, neither they nor others recognized as historically important.

"You know something? I was so surprised," she said, the memorial's steel surfaces glinting in the sun. "I have a deeper feeling we're all Rosies now."


Richmond Gathering For WWII "Rosie the Riveter's"

Female World War workers arrive with families


By Chip Johnson,, October 12, 2000

Melvin and Kate Grant hail from Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, and they couldn't be prouder Americans.

Old Glory sways majestically in the swirling, dusty Oklahoma winds outside their home, and Melvin has been known to don his marine dress blues for national holidays. It still fits him -- right down to the white gloves -- the way it did when he was a fresh-faced, 19-year-old recruit.

But this weekend belongs to Kate and thousands of other World War II women workers around the country who will be honored Saturday on the Richmond waterfront as a national "Rosie the Riveter'' memorial is dedicated.

Kate, 76, arrived in Richmond yesterday and will be joined by 60 relatives from Northern California, Texas and Oklahoma. But the reunion won't stop there



Kate Grant, 2000

Kate Grant interviewed on 5 April 2003: GO HERE


About 150 "Rosies'' are expected to attend Saturday's ceremony, near the giant shipyards where 747 ships were built and where a visitors center for a Rosie the Riveter National Park will be erected, if President Clinton signs the authorization bill.

The women will compare their experiences and discuss their lives during the national mobilization that occurred during the war.

In a scene right out of John Steinbeck's American classic "The Grapes of Wrath,'' the newlywed Grants family packed up what little they owned, placed their six-week old baby girl on a pillow and drove 3 1/2 days to Richmond in a 1942 Ford pickup truck, Kate recalled.

"We took pots, pans, a mattress, bedclothes, whatever clothes we could,'' she said.

With $25 to their name, they began the journey west, dining on roadside meals of cooked bacon and white beans.

"We stopped at a service station on the desert for gas and were so thirsty for a cold drink, but water was 10 cents a glass,'' Kate said, describing the trip.

A soldier on maneuvers in the area who saw the family's predicament donated a canteen of cold water, Kate recalled.

The Grants were among thousands of people from Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere who poured into Richmond during the war years to work at the big Kaiser Shipyards on San Francisco Bay.

At its height, the shipyards employed more than 100,000 people, including Kate, who worked as a tack welder on the graveyard shift.

Until he joined the U.S. Marine Corps late in 1943, Melvin worked at a fish factory in town.

Kate's job was to make the first welds that held together the prefabricated sections of the supply ships that were constructed in Richmond.

She worked 40 feet down, at the base of the ship's bow.


Kate Grant, 1943


"They told me to weld like I crocheted; the only problem was I didn't know how to crochet,'' Kate said with a smile.

"I took the (iron) rod in my left hand and the torch in my right and melted the lead into the narrow cracks. Then I would brush it down until it was nice and smooth.''

When the couple weren't at work, they shared a 16-foot trailer with five other people and considered themselves lucky to have it.

"There were people who would go to the all-night movies because they had no other place to sleep,'' Kate aid.

As much as the reunion means to all the Rosies who will attend the Saturday morning ceremony, the dedication of a national park and memorial comes at a time when the city of Richmond is having a renaissance of its own.

"This dedication is probably the largest positive event in Richmond's history,'' said City Manager Isiah Turner.

More than 5,000 homes -- ranging from $300,000 to $600,000 -- will soon be under construction along the city's 32-mile shoreline. All told, close to $1 billion in private investment has been pledged in Richmond, Turner said.

In addition to the memorial, Kate Grant's memories of her wartime workers will be recorded in celluloid for eternity.

The last line of an autobiography she wrote for a monthly newsletter about the memorial somehow found its way into the script of a soon-to-be released Disney movie about Richmond's women welders.

"I told Melvin later that I wanted to make a ship for him to come home in,'' Kate wrote.

On Saturday, October 14, 2000, all the Rosies and their loved ones will be welcomed with open arms to their wartime home in Richmond.

Volunteer crew is restoring a World War II Victory ship, remnant of Richmond's shipyards


By Chip Johnson,, July 27, 2000


Every Tuesday for the past year, Owen Olson has left his Daly City home and stepped back in time aboard the Red Oak Victory, a World War II relic being brought back to life on the Richmond waterfront.

At 79 years old, the retired U.S. Navy lieutenant dons a pair of coveralls and safety glasses, and climbs down into the bowels of the ship's engine room to strip off layer upon layer of lead-based paint. His face streaked with oil, he is a Norman Rockwell image of an engine-room grease monkey.

Olson is one of the 30 volunteers, many of them retirees, who show up to paint, weld and repair the aging vessel. It is the only ship still afloat from Richmond's giant Kaiser Shipyards -- a remnant of the glory days when 747 ships were built there during the war.

One day, they hope, the vessel will be docked at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Park in Richmond. The Rosie memorial, a 400-foot-long wall shaped like a section of a Victory ship, will tell the story of the working women -- and men -- of World War II. It is scheduled to be unveiled at a dedication ceremony in mid-October.


Chow Down. Red Oak Victory


Meanwhile, about 7,000 feet of space at the old Ford plant, which built 60,000 tanks during the war, will be converted into a visitor center near where the Red Oak Victory would be docked in the future.

The visitor center will provide information about the shipyards, the tank factory and other World War II- era sites in Richmond as well as war- factory sites in Massachusetts, Washington, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Louisiana and Connecticut.

When the park is approved by Congress, it will become eligible for funding from the National Park Service. The visitor center is scheduled to be completed in two years.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of work to be done on the Red Oak Victory, whose restoration must be funded by grants and donations in addition to the sweat of volunteers who hope to have the job finished in two years.

On his weekly trip to Richmond, Olson is joined by a collection of aging wise guys and characters who look like they were typecast for a remake of "McHale's Navy,'' a 1960s TV sitcom.

The crew is clearly more comfortable aboard the ship -- a rusting giant cargo vessel pulled from the mothball fleet at Suisun Bay two years ago -- than they are on land. Some of the officers' quarters have been restored by a volunteer group from Clearlake in Lake County, but the rusting exterior decks and walls of the ship need the most attention.

Mike Huntsinger, a career merchant sailor, serves as the chief mate. His job is to coordinate the tasks on the ship and perform a mechanical assessment of the ship's condition. A detailed 60-page restoration report has just been submitted to a firm that will estimate the cost of repairing the 441-foot vessel.

"The objective is to restore it to an operating vessel and make it look like it did the day it was launched,'' he said.

Right now, the boat is docked in Brickyard Cove Marina at an old city-owned dock, Terminal 9. She is a rusting gray lady, but there are signs of life aboard her. A gigantic winch used to load one of the ship's four huge cargo holds has been restored and is now operational.

The 5mm and 20mm guns aboard the vessel, which was used to ferry supplies to soldiers fighting the Japanese, lie on the deck until the day they are mounted on the gun tubs on the bow and stern of the ship.

But making the Red Oak Victory whole again will take far more than the elbow grease and old sea stories that Olson and J.P. Irvin, his mate in the engine room, or chief engineer Bill Jackson can muster.

The cost is staggering -- about $3 million to $4 million worth of mechanical repairs would require the giant vessel to be dry-docked. An equally long list of cosmetic work, including a stem-to-stern paint job, would also require a substantial investment, he said.

Sea valves in the ship's hull that once allowed ocean water inside to cool the engines have been welded shut. The propeller needs to be balanced, auxiliary generators could use an overhaul, and ultrasound tests must be performed on the hull, just to name a few things, Huntsinger said.

"We'll pare down from there and see what the real world gives us,'' he said.


Red Oak Victory


Lois Boyle, president of the Richmond Museum of History, which owns the boat, will try to raise money through federal transportation grants, corporate sponsors -- including Kaiser Permanente, whose parent company built the vessel -- and hundreds of others.

The museum has also applied to have the ship placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would qualify it for funding.

Despite its state of disrepair, the Red Oak Victory -- named after the tiny town in Iowa that suffered the heaviest losses per capita in World War II -- was a working merchant ship in the Vietnam War before being decommissioned in 1969.

Jackson, a veteran seaman who sailed for 53 years, knows the feeling. The 82-year-old Oakland native was living in Costa Rica with a new wife and new son when he got a call in 1990 from an old sea buddy to help run a steam-powered supply ship in Operation Desert Storm.

A few years later, Jackson returned to Oakland, where he lives with family members and spends his days aboard the Red Oak Victory.

"I love this ship and the sea and the friendships with the men that have sailed them over the years,'' he said.

He must love ships because during World War II, he had two of them torpedoed from underneath him. He survived, but suffered injuries aboard the Courageous, which was sunk off the coast of Trinidad.

The Red Oak Victory has become a rallying point for old sailors and history buffs alike, a place where they can work and reminisce and shave 30 years away.


3 inch gun. Red Oak Victory


Huntsinger remembers the feeling he had the first time he saw the ship.

"I saw the mast from the highway, came aboard and the memories came flooding back,'' he said.

As much as he and the rest enjoy the work, they will never turn away volunteers.

"I have a love for these old ships,'' said Rolly Hauck, 77, a retired salesman from Novato who served in the merchant fleet.

He and his compatriots have but one collective wish when it comes to the Red Oak Victory.

"I want to see this ship live again,'' Hauck said.

Ship Surveying Crew


Red Oak Victory, the main deck.



The Red Oak Victory was named after Red Oak, Iowa. The population of Red Oak, Iowa, was approximately 5,000 people during World War II. The community had the sad distinction to have the greatest per capita military fatalities during WWII. 31 GI's from Red Oak, Iowa were killed at the Battle of Kasserine Pass, North Africa, in 1944.

The Red Oak Victory was built in Kaiser's Richmond Shipyard #1. She was laid down 9 September 1944, and launched 5 November 1944. She was acquired by the U.S. Navy December 5, 1944 and commissioned the same day with Lt. Commander John S. Sayer, USNR in command. The Red Oak was loaded with cargo and departed San Francisco for Pearl Harbor January 10, 1945, 4 months after construction of the ship began!. From then until the end of the war she served as an ammunition ship for various battles in the South Pacific. She was one of ten Victory ships commissioned in the US navy as ammunition carriers during WWII. After the war she served as a cargo carrier in the Merchant Marine off and on until 1968, when she was laid up in the "Mothball Fleet", in Suisun Bay, California.

In 1998 ownership of the vessel was conveyed, by an act of Congress, to the Richmond Museum Association, and the Red Oak Victory was towed back to Richmond, California,where she was first constructed in 1944.



This project of the Richmond Museum of History, is proceeding apace thanks to the efforts of many dedicated volunteers. Here are some of the recent highlights as reported by Michael J. Huntsinger, the Chief Mate and Restoration Manager. Exterior activities include the November 99 raising of a set of cargo gear at No. 4 hatch for the first time in over 30 years. There are seven such sets of booms on the ship. The anchor windlass, still fully functional, has been cleaned of old paint, acided, and primed with gray two-part linear polyurethane (LP). The longitudinal support frames on the bottom have major rusting which will need repair in the future. In late December more guns were delivered, including two 3" anti aircraft guns and a 5" cannon. Two 20 mm guns have already been procured. The weapons came from former Naval Base Treasure Island and will eventually be mounted, giving the ship that authentic World War II appearance. Holes in the decking compound on the navigation bridge and the passageway aft of the radio room have been filled, eliminating major safety hazards as well as eyesores. Most of the exposed area of the after (gunner s) house has now been covered with primer and finish gray paint.

Ship tours are given most days, weather permitting. The ship is berthed at Terminal One, near Ferry Point at the end of Dornan Drive, Richmond, California. Call the ship at 510 237-2933 for current information. Admission is free; donations are gratefully accepted.


'We never expected to be recognized,' says World War II worker

By Michelle Locke, Associated Press Writer

Saturday, October 14, 2000  


RICHMOND, California (AP) -- Phyllis Gould rarely thinks of the years she spent welding troop ship deck houses together in the shipyards of San Francisco Bay. Fifty-five years have passed since then, decades of marriage, divorce, child rearing and the myriad distractions of home life.

But a whiff of the hot, wiry breath of metal melting and, suddenly, it's all right there -- the grimy, frightening, exciting days of waging war with a blowtorch.

"t just zaps me back. I can see and hear everything,'' she says.

On Saturday, Gould and millions of other World War II women workers will be honored with the dedication of a Rosie the Riveter memorial in Richmond, the shorefront city that launched many of the ships that kept American sailors afloat.

The memorial, at 441 feet the same length as the Liberty Ships the women helped build, includes a walk with a timeline of facts and memories from women workers.

Congress has approved establishing the site, now a city park honoring women's war work, as a national historic park. The legislation awaits President Clinton's approval.

"We never expected to be recognized,'' says Gould's sister, Marian Sousa, a World War II draftsman. ``Everybody worked. They did what they could.''

Gould was the first in the family to find war work. When her husband and his friends announced one Sunday they were going to learn welding to get jobs building ships, "I piped up, `Me, too!'''

She studied from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m., but failed her first few job interviews in 1942 -- running into the brick wall of a boilermaker's union man who flatly told her, "No women and no blacks.''

The third time she was turned down, "I started crying. And as I walked back to the room, there was a man sitting at the desk and he said, 'What's wrong?' and I told him and he said, 'Go back up there,' and I did and I got a job.''

In the end there were half a dozen women hired, much to the consternation of shipyard bosses -- who hired a woman chaperone.

"At first I think they were just kind of watching us with amusement,'' she says.

Gould was put to work tacking, putting a short weld on pieces of metal to hold them in place for the final work. She called on her embroidery skills to get the welds placed just so, working her way up to $1.20 an hour -- "Oh boy, yeah, it was money.''

The work was hot and dirty, but Gould had her little vanities. Behind her heavy mask her lips were lipsticked; her hair was tied up in a kerchief, but she made sure her bandanna matched the color of the shirt collar poking out from beneath her sweats.

Gould did run into problems with one co-worker, a would-be ``ladies man'' who made the mistake of shining a flashlight on her, blinding her -- "I had warned all of the guys on the crew, don't ever do it because I'm going to swing on the next one that does.''

She swung, knocking the supervisor's shiny hard hat off his head. He lunged back, cramming her welding mask below her ears.

For a while she got the worst assignments, welding in dark, cramped corners on the inside of the ship.

"One night, he came sidling up to me and he said, 'Well, are you tired of it yet.' I said, 'You know I'll do it for the rest of the war if (the alternative) means honeying up to the likes of you.'''

After that, "I went back to my good work.''

Sousa had a quieter time.

She went to work in 1943 as a draftsman after a crash course at the University of California, Berkeley. She was too young, 17, but got the job after her mother -- a war worker herself -- lied for her.

By that time, women war workers were commonplace, filling the jobs the sailors, soldiers and airmen had left behind. At the height of the war, women made up approximately 27 percent of the 100,000-strong work force at Richmond's Kaiser shipyards.

Part of Sousa's work was correcting blueprints to match design revisions.

"I remember just endless, endless papers of erasing two bunks and making them three bunks,'' she says.

But it was exciting work, and well-paid at $32 a week.

The senior draftsmen ``never looked down on us. They were really great. In fact, I was expecting my daughter and those men gave me a surprise baby shower.''

Sousa quit when she was too pregnant to make the high first step of the old-style buses. Gould quit when the war ended. Neither ever went back to work outside the home, or felt the urge.

"I never expected it to go on and I was quite happy to stay at home. Sometimes it's hard for younger people to understand that point of view because now I think most girls expect to work, but we didn't,'' says Gould.

Mostly, Gould doesn't think about her years on the homefront lines.

But then something will tug at her memory.

"Sometimes I smell that smell,'' she says, her voice trailing off. "It just puts me back there.''

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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov

Modified 5 February 2011