By Zach and Kathy Chouteau
This year’s Rosie Rally didn’t disappoint.
On full display were many of the beloved, recurring highlights of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park’s annual event: Real-life Rosies, WWII-era music and dancing, vendors with Rosie the Riveter wares and info, speeches by important local leaders and people—some accompanied by their canines—from all corners of the community coming together dressed as their interpretation of Rosie the Riveter, paying homage to the women who worked on the home front during WWII while also honoring Richmond’s role in that vital effort.
According to the Rosie the Riveter Visitor’s Center, this year’s gathering of Rosies, held on Sat., Aug. 11, 2018, at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion, had an estimated 2,000 attendees to the event and center. And even though there wasn’t a Guinness World Record attempt this go around, event-goers were as spirited as ever.
The addition of a costume contest to this year’s event only added to the excitement, with era-appropriate gear on full display, ranging from Red Cross nurses to Victory Garden displayers to military uniforms to adorable babies and dogs and much more dressing up for the occasion.
For this reporter’s family, this year’s Rosie Rally certainly had a meaningful twist that went beyond the costumes…
Some of our WWII allies were in the house. The French, to be exact.
David and Céline Chouteau (pronounced “shoe-toe”), along with their children Leonie, Loϊs (“Louise”) and Eliott, traveled all the way from the town of La Roche-sur-Yon in the Vendée Department in France to explore the Bay Area and visit our family—the Chouteaus of Richmond: Zach, Kathy and Logan.
Some background: A few years ago, our families connected on Facebook when David began a search for people with the last name of Chouteau and found our family. Our friendship grew over shared photos and experiences across many miles and Facebook posts.
And while we expect that they are distant relatives, according to the “French Chouteaus,” the records of the family history that would reveal our family connection were burned in the late 1700s during les guerres de Vendée at a time period known in France as la Terreur.
Through various conversations, they have expressed to us an enduring appreciation of America’s role in WWII, even so many generations later. So it was no surprise that tops on their list during their still-underway visit to the Bay Area was attending the Rosie Rally.
Needless-to-say, the French Chouteaus loved every minute of it and were particularly thrilled to get a shout-out on stage from Tom Leatherman of the National Park Service and a warm personal greeting from Richmond’s first lady, Shirley Butt.
Another meaningful moment for our French friends—and clearly many others in the packed house—was a free short film shown by the Visitor Center, “Home Front Heroes,” illustrating, in part, the roles of Rosies during the war effort and the racial diversity of the Richmond shipyards. The showing left more than one member of our crew teary eyed—it’s highly recommended.
According to David Chouteau, “We heard about the Rosie Rally one year ago when we were planning our visit to the Bay Area. We thought that it would be a celebration day like any other…But last Saturday, when we went to the [Craneway], when we saw all these people and after watching the movie about this part of history in Richmond, we realized that it was more than a simple celebration day. It was ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’”
“I have a message for the women and men who did this particular effort in Richmond—all these ‘Rosies:’ During WWII, my grandfather, Célestin Chouteau, was a French soldier and prisoner in a German camp. If you hadn’t worked so hard to build all of these ships, my grandfather wouldn’t have come back to France, my father wouldn’t have been born in 1946, I wouldn’t have been born either and my son, Eliott Chouteau, could not have met his American ‘cousin’ Logan Chouteau from Richmond. So thank you Rosies, ‘merci du fond du Coeur, Madame (thank you from the bottom of the heart).’”
For this local, having the perspective and presence of one of America’s WWII allies has only expanded my appreciation for the Rosie Rally and its deep, enduring meaning on a global level.