Rosie Riveters reflect on WWII

During World War II, the women of America epitomized the "can-do" spirit of a generation.

On Wednesday, some who worked in the factories, stocked the furnaces and riveted aircraft while men were at war gathered at the River Place senior independent living center in Columbus for Women's History Month. The event was also held in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in 1945.

The members of the Columbus-Phenix City Baker's Dozen Chapter of the American Rosie the Riveter Association were mostly in their 90s, with the oldest turning 96 this year. Two were dressed in their iconic denim Rosie Riveter outfits, their heads wrapped in red and white bandanas.

June Midkiff Tinker, 89, recalled her days being trained in Charleston, W.Va., by the National Youth Administration when she was just 17 years old. After six weeks, she was sent to Ohio to work at an airplane factory in Patterson Field where she repaired B-25 aircraft that went overseas. She also had two brothers in World War II, one of whom died at Iwo Jima. Tinker wrote a song, "Gold Star Mother," in memory of her brother, and performed it at the center.

"As a 17-year-old leaving high school and going to work in a factory, I had not been very active with anything, except maybe playing some music at home or in church and going to school," she said of her life before working in the factory. "And so it was my first time out of West Virginia when I went to Ohio, and it gave me confidence when I was with a group of strangers. I met new people; I made new friends."

Tinker said, just the other day she was looking at an album with all the girls with whom she worked.

"All of us who were in this were girls," she said. "Because the guys our age had gone into service."

Jonnie Melillo Clasen is president of the Baker's Dozen chapter and the director of the Georgia State American Rosie the Riveter Association. She said the local organization formed in April 2008 when she was asked by the founder of the national association to start a chapter in the Columbus area.

Clasen said her mother was a Rosie Riveter who died in 2005, and she and her father were beginning to get out more. So she decided to accept the challenge.

As the daughter of a deceased riveter, Clasen is considered a "rosebud." Her father, Vincent Melillo, the 97-year-old widow of a riveter is a "rivet." He attended Wednesday's ceremony in memory of his wife, Frankie Thompson, from Milan, Ga., who managed the canteen at Camp Wheeler, Ga.

Melillo is also the last original World War II Merrill's Marauder in Georgia, according to Clasen. He is a member of the Army Ranger Hall of Fame and Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame. He is also a Korean Veteran.

Clasen said the honorary headquarters for the national riveters association is FDR's Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga., and described Wednesday's gathering as "the largest gathering of WWII Rosie the Riveters in east central Georgia since 2011."

During the war, 95-year-old Mildred "Jean" Liparota worked on 40 mm shells at Monroe Auto Equipment in Monroe, Mich. Her late husband, Phil, was a veteran of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"We knew that we were helping the war effort," she said of her days in the factory. She said women had to have their hair tied up in the bandanas so it wouldn't get caught in machinery, and women who worked with the factory would leave the factory with oil over their hair and clothes.

Juanice Still, 90, was on her way to college when she was called to teach at a country school in Tifton, Ga., to replace teachers who had gone to war. Her late husband and brother, a member of the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame, were World War II veterans.

When she accepted the teaching position, Still said the superintendent told her it was only temporary and she would be able to continue her education in two weeks.

"But I never did get back to college because the war lasted so long," she said.