Dorothy May was six months pregnant when she went to learn how to rivet airplanes during World War II while her husband was building bridges in Europe.
The West Virginia native was told to come back when her baby was six weeks old, and when she did she began a career that took her from factory lines to farmland all in the name of supporting her country.
On Sunday, Ms. May and countless other “ordinary heroes” were honored during Spirit of ‘45 Day, a day set aside by Congress to remember not only those in uniform during World War II, but the people who supported them back home.
“This is a day for someone not famous, who didn’t get a lot of recognition,” said Warren Hegg, national program supervisor for Spirit of ‘45 Day. “American soldiers were coming home to values that still make us great.”
Spirit of ‘45 Day was recognized in August 2010 by Congress, which established that the second Sunday of every August would be a day of national remembrance. President Truman announced the end of World War II on Aug. 14, 1945.
Mr. Hegg said the spirit day’s logo, which is based on the famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, was chosen to show that “we could not have won the war without the home front.”
The remembrance ceremony in the nation’s capital took place at the World War II Memorial under a hazy sky. A steady stream of curious tourists paused during the event to listen to the West Point Alumni Glee Club or applaud one of the many decorated war veterans after their speeches.
Students from Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly held up a long banner with nearly 2,000 photographs of men and women who served in the military.
“It’s important for us to recognize what we were up against and the result of the brave men and women in service,” National Park Service Chief Historian Robert Sutton said. “I think most of us, if we’d been around in 1941, could not understand what we were up against at that time. The war altered the course of history for the United States. The war was a national effort supported by regular men and women.”
While soldiers were fighting in Europe and the Pacific, life at home also was being affected by war. Families rationed food and gasoline, war bonds and stamps were sold, women went to work, and everyone supported the effort, keynote speaker retired Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen Jr. said.
“The commitment of effort, the confidence in the overall success never wavered among the general population of this country,” he said.
After Ms. May trained to be a riveter, she worked at a local factory producing various wing parts for war planes. She was sidelined when she sliced her knuckle and got arsenic in it, so she worked as an instructor for fellow riveters. When her brother went off to war, she bought his lime hauling business and worked on farms spreading lime to improve the crop soil.
Now 91, Ms. May lives near Martinsburg, W.Va., and, after a long life filled with labor she has weakened her knees and shoulders. “I’m a wreck,” she said with a laugh, but she’s strong enough to play the washboard in the local Young at Heart Kitchen Band. On Sunday, she proudly wore a corsage and a red, white and blue silk scarf around her neck as she stood to be recognized.
“I had to go,” she said as she considered her first day on the job. “It was hard work, but I liked it.”