- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Ollie Hawkins, a young woman in Flagstaff, Ariz., watched her three brothers and a cousin march off to war.
"I wanted to help bring the boys home, my boys, all the boys," she says at her home in Oakland, Calif. "That's why I came to California."
Miss Hawkins wouldn't be shipped out to one of the many battlefronts around the world. Instead, her war efforts would take place on the home front, in the shipyards on the shore of San Francisco Bay.
Now in her early 80s, Miss Hawkins has finally seen her home-front work remembered, with the recent dedication of the new Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Richmond, Calif., where a quarter of the nearly 100,000 shipyard workers were women.
That memorial is the first step in a project that will create a new national park in Richmond over the next three years: the World War II Home Front National Historical Park, due to open in 2003. President Clinton signed legislation Oct. 24 to begin creating the park.
Donna Graves is a private consultant to the National Park Service who was hired to work on the Rosie the Riveter Memorial. What she and the Park Service discovered in their research into "The Rosies" was that there was a much bigger story to be told.
"What we found is a story that is Mom and apple pie," she says. "It's a story that's so inclusive, it speaks to all kinds of people."
In addition to marking the influx of women into the work force during the war, the new park will tell an even bigger story of how the shipyards were built virtually overnight by industrialist Henry Kaiser and his 100,000 employees, many of whom were blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asians.
Workers came from a society that was still racially segregated, and in which men's spheres and women's spheres were separate and largely unequal.
Miss Hawkins, who is black, speaks from experience. "It wasn't very nice being African American in those days," she says. "When you got off work, you'd go to Oakland to go shopping, and everywhere you'd go, you'd see 'White Trade Only' signs."
But, she adds, the war effort changed that, first in the shipyards and ultimately beyond.
"In the shipyards, you didn't run into that prejudice," she says, "because everyone was working side by side for the same purpose."
Miss Hawkins adds that in the shipyards, women were treated as the equals of men, as long as they got their work done. And that work was new to men and women alike. Most of those working as welders and boilermakers had never worked in industry before the war, and after less than a week's training, they were thrown into their new jobs.
"In my whole time working at the shipyard, I didn't know anyone to get into fights," she says, then adds with a laugh, "That's more than I can say for the post office."
Miss Hawkins worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Oakland for 33 years before she retired.
Despite that common cause, working on the home front was hardly easy, and many people made "the ultimate sacrifice" right at home in Richmond. "The fatality rates in the shipyards were extraordinary. They were amazingly high," says Ray Murray, who oversaw the feasibility study for the Home Front National Historical Park.
"You had a lot of heavy industrial processes, a lot of people who'd never done this work, and they were doing it fast," he says. "So there was a high toll on the home front, as well as on the battlefront."
The workers were creating Liberty ships (and, later, the faster Victory ships) that were 400-plus-feet long, weighing more than 10,000 tons and carrying about 100 men and nearly half a million cubic feet of cargo. They were crucial to the eventual Allied victory.
"Richmond, for a variety of reasons, was really the best place to tell this story," Mr. Murray says. "The World War II home front altered the West Coast more than other sites around the country. It completely transformed Richmond."
The city grew from 23,000 to nearly 130,000 in a year. In addition to industrial sites for 56 wartime industries, there were worker housing, schools to accommodate a quadrupled student population and day care centers. A field hospital started by Kaiser gave life to the country's first HMO. All of it was built to serve the workers who assembled ships 24 hours a day.
But Richmond, says Mr. Murray, paid a heavy price for its home-front participation.
"When it became clear that we were going to win the war, the government shut the industries down, and people were out of jobs," Mr. Murray says.
"The women were told to go home and start taking care of the house and their husbands, who were coming home. African-Americans in particular were locked out of the factories, then the public housing was shut down, so people were very shut out. If you look at poverty pockets around the Bay area to this day … there's a direct correlation to where the shipyards were."
Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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