By Mike Kinney
When asked what advice she’d offer young women, Marian Wynn said simply, “Just do it.”
“I didn’t think I would be able to weld a pipe and I did it,” Wynn said. “So don’t say you can’t do it.”
Wynn is one of the real-life “Rosie the Riveters” who worked in the Richmond-Kaiser shipyards during WWII and helped to break the mold for women in the workplace. She along with another real-life Rosie, Marian Sousa, are set later this month to board a plane for Normandy, France, where they will be honored as part of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.
On Sunday, we caught up with Wynn and Sousa aboard the SS Red Oak Victory Ship in Richmond, where they took part in a Mother’s Day Pancake Breakfast.
They are among six Bay Area real-life Rosies traveling to Normandy — a trip that will be particularly moving for Wynn. Her brother was killed in Normandy on July 28, 1944 and buried at the American cemetery in France. Seventy-five years later, this will be the first time Wynn will visit his grave.
“It makes me feel good, I have had so many friends that have helped along the way,” Wynn said. “We created a ‘Go-Fund-Me page, a lot of people donated money to make it possible so we could go to France.”
Sousa added, “I appreciate this honor, it was a group of French women who actually invited us to go there and as well because of Marian’s brother, I am very honored to be apart of this delegation.”
Wynn was a pipe welder when she worked at the shipyards. Sousa worked in the engineering department as a draftsmen.
“I actually worked here at Shipyard #3 and I got to watch a launching when a ship was officially finished,” she said. “They would let the water in from the Bay and we would watch the ship pop up from it’s support. That was something special to see.”
Wynn was only 18 years old. She had grown up in the Depression and her family “never had anything, so she became a pipe welder.
“I am sitting at this shipyard here, welding pipes for a ship,” she said. “Then my boyfriend asked me to marry him and give me a diamond ring. I never had one in my life, I had never had any kind of ring before…these are some of my strongest memories of working here in the shipyards.”
And some of the best reminders of their contributions can be seen in the young people they meet today.
“There was a young woman who sat across from me, she was in the Navy and she was a welder and a diver,” Sousa said. “There are many opportunities for today’s young women, there are all kinds of jobs young women can do to become successful.”