Here in the USA, there’s a lot of talk about patriotism, but seldom in the form of stories. We proclaim our fierce love of country without explaining what patriotism means to us. Without telling the backstory.
If you’re starting to suspect this is a political or social justice post, rest easy. And, it applies regardless of what country you call home.
What I’m advocating for is the sharing of memories. In fact, I believe that reading or hearing others’ stories can promote unity. That understanding others’ formative narratives—the burdens on their hearts—reduces divisiveness.
This came home to me last Saturday as I and 3,754 other individuals dressed as “Rosie the Riveter” paid homage to the women who “did their part” for the war effort in the 1940s. As we sung patriotic songs, I looked around at the sea of faces in the arena where we’d gathered to break a couple of world records. Though united in their love for Rosie’s the Riveter’s role in US history, I figured their stories of what patriotism means would differ as much as their ages, ethnicity, social strata, and race.
The “original” Rosies—the women who took jobs in the Willow Run Bomber Factory during the early 1940s—gathered in front of the podium. The arena’s Jumbotron screen projected their radiant faces framed in their red with white polka-dot kerchiefs, as they sat with canes, walkers, and in wheel chairs. Surely, each their own story. Their own truth.
And the same had to be true of each person there, different generations, job histories, hair and skin colors, and backgrounds representing the fabric of our country as they gazed at the large flag hanging from the rafters. Certainly, they also each have a unique standpoint. I wondered what memories and stories they’d tell as I looked around at:
- A young African-American UAW worker with her young, slightly bored daughter
- A young Caucasian man holding up a poster featuring a picture of his grandmother
- An older brown-skinned mother wearing a Bindi, her three daughters with glossy, hip-length braids, in tow
- Seaman cadets acting as counters and stewards. One in particular caught my eye, over diligent in counting his flock of 50 Rosies as least that many times. Quizzing me and my friend if we’d sat down precisely where we were told to.
- An older steward and his son, both wearing WWII era US Army dress hats
- An elderly decorated soldier in dress whites, sitting apart, watching the proceedings
- The ninety-six-year-old Rosie, who spoke from the podium, still proud of the accomplishment of a group of women producing one B-24 Liberator an hour
- Faithful supporters of the Willow Run Bomber factory, trying to raise money to save it for perpetuity.
- Young college graduates, curious as to how everyone else knew the words to America the Beautiful, but they didn’t.
- The congresswoman
- The trade union officer who, with great pride, read 1941 employment application for Willow Run, stating that women would be paid the same wages of men.
- The organizer who told us that a “true Rosie” is someone who tries to do something hard each day, then wakes up the next day, and does it again
- My friend Sharon, there with her mother, an original Rosie (second row, far left in the above photo). Honoring history, but more than that, her family’s role in it. Watching her mother drink in the moments, receiving accolades.
I wanted to know about them. Not just their memories and stories, but their histories. Their trials, tribulations, and celebrations.
What does patriotism mean to you? Whether you’re from the USA or elsewhere, give putting your heart to paper a whirl. Your grandchildren might want to know one day.
- Eagle and flag photographs used in graphic: © 2013 Laura Hedgecock
- Rosie the Riveter poster: Public Domain, Artist J. Howard Miller, 1941
- Photograph of the Rosies: ©2017 Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and staff. Used with permission.