Carol Mills, who celebrates her 100th birthday on Veterans Day, never thought of herself as a Rosie the Riveter until Claire Kitchin Dahl, a volunteer at the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan gave a presentation this week at Chelsea Retirement Community (CRC) where Carol resides.
The Yankee Air Museum is on the grounds of the historic Willow Run B-24 bomber plant. Claire is a member of the Outreach Committee and an active “Tribute Rosie” to honor the story and legacy of the Rosies.
“Almost every place I go, I find a Rosie,” says Claire, a retired history teacher from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. “A ‘Rosie’ is any woman who worked in any of the war industries who supported the war effort in any way. These were brave, courageous women – six million strong – who answered the call to serve their country in this way during World War II. In 2020, Rosies were honored with the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal as Veterans of the Homefront.”
Carol was a switchboard operator for Michigan Bell in the 1940s. “I worked for Michigan Bell in Dearborn to earn money for college,” says Carol. “When they needed operators in Ypsilanti for the Bomber plant, I was more than happy to move there. I worked the 3:00 to 11:00 p.m. shift, which paid a little more and allowed me to go to school during the day at Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University).
“I never thought of myself as a Rosie. I didn’t work in a factory. But, in retrospect, I guess it was part of the war effort.
“Things just happen for a reason as I look over my 100 years,” reflects Carol.
Before her job at Michigan Bell, she had carpooled to college with a friend, but she hated driving back and forth. Carol’s father, a self-educated World War I veteran, was disappointed when Carol decided she was not going back to school until she could live on campus. By getting the job at Michigan Bell, she was able to return to school and complete her bachelor’s degree in 1946. She also worked part-time in the college library, and a friend there introduced Carol to her brother, who was just discharged from the Army infantry, having served in Germany and France during World War II. The two married in 1947.
With so many veterans in her family, Carol says she has always felt honored to celebrate her birthday on Veterans Day. “As a little girl, my dad said I got a parade in my honor!” Carol’s grandfather, an immigrant from Sweden, also served as a state representative in Minnesota. “He was very patriotic,” says Carol of her grandfather.
The mother of six children, with eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, Carol’s philosophy is to keep a positive attitude and roll with the changes. “Life isn’t one happy journey, and there are ups and downs,” says Carol. “What you do influences your children – you don’t want to pass along that negativity to them.”
Sue Crittenden was born and raised in the western tip of North Carolina, bordering Georgia
and Tennessee. She graduated high school in 1942 and started college at Young Harris College in Georgia. The war had begun, and three of her brothers joined three different branches of the service.
“At that time, they were looking for women to go to the NYA School (National Youth Administration, a program of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal)
in Asheville, North Carolina). I talked my dad into letting me quit college and enroll in this school.”
At NYA School, Sue learned to use lathes, milling machines, and more, passing all her classes. Sue got a job at a torpedo plant in Alexandria, Virginia, affiliated with the Washington Navy Yard. It was Sue’s first train ride, traveling from Asheville to Washington, D.C.!
Sue made torpedo parts, including “thousands and thousands of rudder blades” that started with a piece of steel. Sue remembers there were three shifts at the plant and each month they would alternate shifts.
Sue enjoyed her four years working at the torpedo plant and exploring Washington, D.C. in her free time, including all the museums and botanical gardens. She and her friends would also rent bikes and ride to Mount Vernon, since there were very few cars on the road in those days. “I loved every bit of it!” says Sue.
Her boyfriend, Charles, served primarily in the South Pacific during World War II, but when he was sent to the Washington Navy Yard for more instruction in 1944, they decided to get married. Just two days later, he was shipped back to the South Pacific, returning home after 13 months when the war had ended.
Sue has fond memories of this time in her life. She also has a torpedo charm that someone at the plant made for all the women.
Sue and Charles had two sons and, in 1950, they moved to Michigan where Charles worked for American Airlines at Willow Run Airport. Charles passed away when he was just 40 of a brain aneurism. Sue remarried in 1973 to Bernard Crittenden, whose wife had passed away when his two daughters were young. Today, Sue lives at Chelsea Retirement Community, and she has ten grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She turned 99 last August. Longevity clearly runs in her family – her sister, Ruth, is 104!
“These ladies are so inspiring!” says Hazel Mead, CRC’s Independent Living Life Enrichment Coordinator. “What a wonderful thing these ladies have done in their lives!”