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Book description: Memoirs, stories, and poems from the heart of Clara A. Bastien Treat, one of America’s Rosie-the-Riveters. About the author – Clara Treat was a wife, mother, and grandmother. She was a well-known antique dealer, inventor, and WWII Rosie-the-Riveter. Her writing was inspired by love of family, freedom, and country.
MEMOIRS OF A ROSIE THE RIVETER
North Tonawanda, New York
December 4, 1941
A few days before the Pearl Harbor attack
The days before Pearl Harbor were some of the happiest in my life. The gang met at my house two or three evenings a week to play cards, listen to the player piano, talk, and eat a wonderful snack that my mother provided. The house had been built around the turn of the century and had a long room in the front with a lovely front porch. A gas log fireplace provided a cozy and warm place for us to meet.
Three tables were set up for pinochle and the front parlor served as a dance floor. There were fourteen young men and four young women in our group. Some families wouldn’t allow their daughters to participate because they thought we were too wild, but it wasn’t true. We were as innocent and pure as the driven snow. After a while, we would roll up the rugs and dance to the player piano or a lively tune on the radio.
Most of the guys were like brothers to us, except for a few. I was regarded as Chester’s girl and my sister Julie, who was younger, was unattached. She did however take the time to flirt with each and every one of them.
We were coming out of the depression, which had held us down for so long. Some of our friends joined the army and navy to get a job and joined us on furlough. To survive tough times my widowed mother ran a boarding house, providing two meals a day, a packed lunch, and a place to sleep for seven men. My sister and I helped out; keeping busy with laundry, ironing, and housework and my brother Jim kept the lawn and maintained the house.
On top of that, Julie and I worked as usherettes at the Riviera Theatre several evenings a week. It was a busy life, but we enjoyed ourselves. There was no time to get into trouble.
Then, everything changed…
A DAY OF INFAMY
North Tonawanda, New York
December 7, 1941
“We have witnessed this morning the attack of Pearl Harbor and a severe bombing of Pearl Harbor by army planes, undoubtedly Japanese. The city of Honolulu has also been attacked and considerable damage done. This battle has been going on for nearly three hours…It’s no joke. It’s a real war.”
— News bulletin from Honolulu, heard over WCAE, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I shall never forget that day. My sister and I were on our way to work as usherettes at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, New York. We noticed people gathering on street corners, alerting us to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The attack had come in the morning hours on the Hawaiian Islands. With wire delays and the speed of relay, the news did not reach us until well into mid-afternoon. My first feeling was disbelief, which turned quickly to horror at the thought that anyone would attack the United States like that. It occurred to my sister, Juliette, and I that this day would forever change our country and us. We would have to pitch in and help our country to defend itself in any way we could.
After work, the gang gathered at my house to discuss the attack and make plans to assist our country. We wondered what happened to two of our friends, who were stationed on the Arizona. One was a flyer and the other was a sailor. We would wait patiently for news of their fate.
The boys reacted in different ways. Some were angry, while others were committed to defending this country. They discussed the branches of the military and decided on the ones to join.
Julie and I had a sinking feeling. We knew that things were changing forever and that some of these boys would never come back. We swore that we would do everything in our power to assist the war effort and write to each and every one of them. The night ended on a somber note. Due to the war, our gang was breaking up forever.
Over the next few weeks, most able-bodied young men joined the service and left for their destinations. Because of this, the factories were left short-staffed and many of them were being converted to manufacture war goods and supplies to support the troops. The radio and newspapers were calling for workers for these factories and asking the women to participate. Shortages were expected, so Julie and I joined drives to collect paper, glass, tin, iron, and other materials. It wasn’t enough. We decided to leave our jobs as usherettes and work in the factories.
We were very close, so we always worked at the same place. The first place that we went to work for was the Van Rault Mills on Sweeney Street in North Tonawanda. The factory that had once made nylon lingerie and undergarments for women had transformed—virtually overnight—to making nylon for parachutes. Julie was assigned to the rollers. She had to wrap the giant rolls of nylon, package them and put them on a hand truck destined for the shipping department. I was assigned to the spinner department, where cones of nylon thread were being spun into rolls. I couldn’t let the cones run out, or the rolls would be faulty.
After three months, we’d had enough and sought employment at Remington Rand, Co. in Tonawanda. This company had been involved in manufacturing office equipment, but had now geared-up to make parts for the airplanes being built by Buffalo-based Curtis-Wright. At Remington Rand I learned how to drill and handle tools, something that I never thought I would be doing. Julie was a driller as well, something that was out of character for her. We were working on parts that were used to put airplane wings together. Once, I got my drill caught in Julie’s hair, an act that led to a rule about hairnets.
After eighteen months, my sister and I passed security checks and accepted positions at Curtis-Wright to work directly on transport planes as riveters, drillers, and buckers.
Julie got lucky and became a bond-girl, selling war bonds at the factory as her regular job. I was assigned to riveting and bucking on the C47 Transport Plane. The noise in the plane was deafening and many of us lost some of our hearing. The riveter and the bucker communicated by taps. The riveter was outside tapping on the place where they wanted to rivet, while the bucker was inside tapping with a bucking bar. When the two met, the riveting began. The bucker’s job was uncomfortable and a bit dangerous. Crouching in spaces where you couldn’t stand, you didn’t dare sit down for fear of getting a drill in your behind. Each night, my ears rang for hours after I left the plant.
In addition to this, I received training and volunteered as a nurse’s aide at Degraff Memorial Hospital. Julie and I volunteered at the local U.S.O., spending many nights dancing with young navy men and flyboys who would soon be shipped overseas.
My family, my friends, and I continued to contribute in other ways by collecting glass, paper, and anything that could be recycled for the war effort, in addition to planting “Victory gardens.” Everyone was subject to rationing, so anything that we could grow was appreciated.
It was a time of uncertainty. We did not know if, when, or how we would be attacked again.
A PATRIOTIC ENGAGEMENT
North Tonawanda, New York
It was the summer of 1943. Two young sailors, temporarily stationed in our area, rented an apartment from my mother. The Richardson Boat Company that manufactured Chris-Craft pleasure boats had been refitted to make landing craft for the US Navy. Ray Nobes and Jimmy Cavey had been tasked with shepherding the finished boats down the Erie Canal to Albany and points beyond, where they were loaded onto large ships.
Ray Nobes was a tall, slim, dark-haired young man from the state of Maine. Reserved and soft spoken, he was a sweet man with a beautiful smile.
Jimmy Cavey, a New Englander as well, was tall and muscular and handsome in his uniform. Outspoken and quick-witted, he enjoyed dancing the jitterbug and the waltz.
They rented a car and asked us to show them around. Ray and Jimmy took Julie and me to Niagara Falls, the local Canteen, and on rides through the countryside.
One day, they came to us with sad news. Their time in our area was almost up and they’d received orders to leave the next day for a European tour of duty. The boys had a request. If they could tell their officers that they were getting engaged to two sisters, they would be granted an extra day with us. Would we be willing to say that we were engaged to them?
Julie and I saw no harm in it. We liked these men and wanted to help them. We agreed to meet them later on the bridge that crossed the Erie Canal to have one last evening together.
After dinner, we walked with the boys to the canal. We were sad that they were leaving but flattered that they wanted to pretend to be engaged to us, even for a few hours. We didn’t know if we’d ever see them again, yet we promised that we’d write faithfully.
On the bridge, we got a big surprise. Both men presented us with diamond engagement rings and asked us to wait for them. Julie was flattered and remarked that the rings were absolutely beautiful. With tears streaming down her face, she promised Jimmy that she would think about it seriously. I was shocked and had not considered marriage at that point. How could I say no? Ray was heading off to war and he might never return. Reluctantly, I accepted the ring and agreed to think about it.
They left early the next day. We had really enjoyed their company and life seemed empty without them. Unwilling to tell our mother about this, we stashed the rings in a drawer.
Months later, I told Ray in a letter that I wasn’t ready for marriage. I’m not sure what Julie did about Jimmy.
We busied ourselves working for the war effort and helping our mother with her boarding house.
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