True Patriots: An inside look at women who helped win World War II

  • Published
  • By Angela Woolen
  • Robins Public Affairs
Not many are left to tell the tales of the women pioneers who went to work during World War II. This was a generation who grew up during the Great Depression and multiple wars, who saw sons, brothers, fathers and husbands sent off to foreign lands.

Some of these women are nearing the century mark in age. They have shared their stories numerous times and no two experiences are the same for these women who took the place in schools, factories and military bases. 

The American Rosie the Riveter Association's 13th chapter, the "Baker's Dozen" or Columbus/Phenix City chapter held a small gathering for its members March 11 as part of Women's History Month and to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the ending of World War II. Memorabilia from 70 years ago adorned the tables of the lobby as the group met at Riverplace Independent Retirement Living in Columbus, the home of June Midkiff Tinker. 

At 17 years old, Tinker quit high school to join the workforce to support the war effort. She and her sister, Hope, who was two years older, were bused from their home in West Virginia to a training facility in Ohio. Before her trip to the facility, Tinker had never been out of her home state.

While in Ohio, she lived in an old converted house with other girl trainees. Two house mothers were assigned to the dwelling which held four girls per room.
Tinker, who turns 90 this year, remembers the mess hall best of all. In those days food was scarce, and she felt fortunate to be able to eat the bounty at the training facility.

Her sister Hope joined the Women's Army Corps, and Tinker was left to work on B-25s and B-29s. She learned riveting at Patterson Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

"I can still remember how to do it," said Tinker, who was dressed in the traditional Rosie outfit with a red kerchief and blue overalls.

She helped repair the war airplanes damaged overseas so the military could send the aircraft back.

Two of her brothers, Kenneth and Jake Midkiff, were Marines who served in the battle of Iwo Jima. Kenneth was killed in action; she wrote a song about him in 2003. Jake survived but suffered with shrapnel in his lungs and legs until he died in the 1980s.

As a new bride, Minton watched her husband leave for war. Raymond Minton Jr., originally from Atlanta, went to Iwo Jima on the fifth day of the battle.

She still carries a jar of beach sand from Iwo Jima. The black sand feels rough, like large chunks of coffee grounds. She says she can't imagine what it was like in the caves and trenches for the soldiers stationed there.

On her Rosie the Riveter uniform is her "E" pin for excellence - the plane pin which is from the Douglas A-26 she worked on - and a label the Rosies attached to the planes with serial numbers. Her pin is a blank.

Minton didn't wear the poster uniform during her work as a buckler, she wore her own clothes. The Rosies were not allowed to wear jewelry or loose clothing at the factory.

"The war was so much different than it is now. There was more patriotism," Minton said. "Everyone was trying to help win the war." 

Originally from Idaho, she went to California with her family to work for Doak Aircraft Company. Her grandmother, mother, an aunt and a sister were also Rosies.

"It was a very patriotic job. It meant a little more because I was a new bride," Minton said. Minton's husband passed away in 2012.

Faye Johnson Edwards was staying with friends in Baltimore, Md., while working at a defense plant which made pistons for engines. She remembers some of the pistons being big enough to drive a car through.

She and a friend decided to join the Army. As part of the Women's Army Corps, Edwards was stationed in many port towns in Europe during the war. She was an office worker and had access to top secret information.

Her son, Walt Edwards from Harris County, said there are some things she still won't tell her children.

"You watch what you say," said the soft-spoken 90 year old.

Her youngest son, Mike Edwards works at Robins.

During the war and even after, Edwards couldn't travel around town in Europe without an armed escort due to sniper attacks. Her scrapbook contains photos of her time with the 22nd Training Regiment at Fort Oglethorpe in 1944. She has embroidered napkins from Brussells tucked into the sleeves of the album.

Juanice Still was ready to go back for another semester of college in 1942. Instead, she was asked to replace a teacher at a rural Tift County school who had gone to war.

Gas was rationed, and she had barely enough to get to work and back in the old Model T her father bought her. She had to coast down hills to make it home.

"Everything we had was rationed. Everybody canned. The government wanted us to grow our own food," she said.

Wendell Jones, her brother, joined the Navy at 16 when a truck came through town. Still said that was a common occurrence when a truck would drive by asking who wanted to join the military. She said many of the boys would jump on just like her brother did. The family found out when Jones didn't come home that evening that he had answered his country's call.

Jones was in the English Channel aboard a landing boat when a German U-boat sunk the ship and, although he was injured, Jones collected 126 dog tags from his fallen comrades, according to his sister. He was awarded three Purple Hearts and, in 2013, was inducted into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame. 

The oldest Rosie of the group, Eva Ulrich, turns 96 this year. 

She graduated with a degree in accounting from Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville. She was one of the six people who helped open Lawson Field at Fort Benning, Ga. She was in charge of the office supplies.

Ulrich showed off her identification card which she kept from her time at Fort Benning. 

"This is what I had to wear to get on and off post," she said of a large circular pin with her picture in the center.

Her husband, Richard, graduated from the Citadel and was an instructor for the infantry at Fort Benning.

"Everyone was in the Army back then," she said. The pair married 20 days after they met and were married for 48 years. She called it a "wonderful marriage."

During her time at the Georgia Army post, she worked in the stock records at the Army Air Corp in charge of the supplies. She remained there until her husband went overseas, then stayed with her mother in LaGrange, Ga.

While staying at her mother's, she was offered a man's job of selling insurance.

"Nobody had ever tried having a woman on an insurance debit before, and I did great!" she said.

The couple moved to Atlanta for a few years before her husband was called back to service. They moved back to Fort Benning and remained there until they both retired. 

Looking pensive, she glanced up and said, "It's been a wonderful life to tell you the truth."