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Archive for November, 2008

One might call Florence DiTullio Joyce the first lady of Fore River Shipyard.  “I was the first woman to fill out an application, to be interviewed, and to be hired,” Joyce said last week as she recalled the early days of 1941.

She and several others were hired early in the war years, before women were urged to work in defense plants for the war effort.  Two uncles, Dan Libertini and Rocco DiTullio, worked at Fore River and encouraged the 19-year-old beauty and recent high school graduate of Quincy High School to apply.  “They’re thinking of hiring women,”  Joyce’s Uncle Rocco told her.  Joyce was raised on Washington Street and lived on Pond Street after her marriage.  Joyce got the job and the rest is history.

The first women, like Joyce, were so successful and good at the jobs, that thousands of women were subsequently hired for defense work.  At the time, Joyce was a pioneer in a man’s world and no one called her “Flo” or “Florence”.  “I had a gorgeous figure and they put ‘Woo, Woo’ on the back of my welding jacket,” Joyce recalled, adding that her male co-workers gave her the nickname ‘Woo, Woo’ and it stuck.

“I loved it,” Joyce said, adding that “the majority of men were respectful.”  She recalled that the green suede-like protective clothing was heavy and cumbersome as was the helmet which Joyce had to wear when welding to project her eyes.  “You’d get a flash, if you took your eyes away,” Joyce said of the dangers of looking at the welding flame, even from the corner of an eye.  “The flash burns the eye tissue.”

Shortly after Joyce was hired, four other women joined her and the women began the heavy-duty, and sometimes dangerous, welding work previously only performed by men.  “We were an experiment,” Joyce said when she recalled those early days.  “We were an experiment, but we must have done a good job because they kept us and hired many, many more women welders.  When they found that women were capable of any job, they hired women as burners, welders, shipfitters.”

“I welded parts of THE WASP,” said Joyce, recalling one of the ships she’d worked on and others commissioned after being built at Fore River.  Records suggest that many more than 2,000 women shipbuilders worked at the Fore River Shipyard for the war efforts.

Ron Adams, a history teacher at Broad Meadows Middle School, has done extensive research with his students on the Fore River Shipyard.  His students recorded oral histories of the workers and invited Joyce and her fellow workers to the school for “Winne the Welder” tributes.  Adams says he believes that there were many more than 2,000 at Fore River but official records are elusive at this time due to asbestos lawsuits.

Workers at Fore River were exposed to asbestos and to the lung diseases associated with asbestos.

Women were employed as welders, painters, pipe coverers, crane operators, burners, sheetmetal workers, nurses, and cafeteria workers.  As a group, the women workers were called “Winnie the Welder.”

“There were thousands of people that worked there. It’s too bad it ended up the way it did. It could give a lot of people a job,” Joyce said of the Fore River Shipyard.  According to reports, the Shipyard, which was operated by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, produced more ships than any other shipyard in the country. At its peak, the shipyard employed 32,000 people. Once the war was over, the women workers were forgotten for years.

In 1991, Mayor James Sheets dedicated “Winnie the Welder Day.”

Joyce said she’s still in touch by mail at holidays with two former workers who live out of state.  At 88, she said she can still wield a welding tool, but she is content to work at her painting.  Her four children and grandchildren keep her busy now.  They are Gail Plant, Rockland; Michael Wilson, Atlanta GA; Jace Wilson, Pembroke; and Lynette Frederickson, Halifax.

by Laura Griffin, Quincy Sun (November 6, 2008)


These ‘Winnie the Welders’ at the Fore River Shipyard helped win World War II. Quincy’s Florence DiTullio Joyce is in the middle of the second row dressed in full protective gear with the welder’s helmet.
[Photo courtesy of Broad Meadows History Project]

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Don’t have time to read the books or watch the films? Newbury College professor Dan Breen to the rescue!

In these short interviews, Dan sketches a picture of America on the eve of World War II, through the DDay invasion that clinched the Allied victory over Germany, all the while shining a light on how the events of nearly 70 years ago, created the world and the country as we know it.

homefrontguns1“America Goes to War”: Throughout the 1930’s, Americans watched with concern as Germany and Italy took over Europe, and Japan began its campaign of imperial expansion. Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America responded by supporting Britain’s opposition to Nazi Germany and by building up our own its military presence at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the U.S. territorial outpost in the Pacific. Reluctant to intervene in conflicts on “foreign soil”, and remembering the horrors of World War I, Americans were forced out of isolation and onto center stage when the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through absolute victory”. -President Roosevelt in his Address to Congress

Professor Dan Breen on what America looked like on the eve of World War II.

Quincy resident and WWII veteran Jim Joyce: Everybody was joining up

“The Homefront”: By 1943, the Allies were producing nearly three times as much munitions as the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The effort on the American Home Front was the economic Juggernaut that helped tipped the scales of victory.

“Never before have we had so little time in which to do so much”. -President Roosevelt, fireside chat, 2/23/42

Dan Breen on the making of the American economy

internmentThe Japanese American Experience in World War II: After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US government opened what would be a shameful chapter in its own history by ordering the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were forced from their homes into “permanent relocation centers”.

“How could such a tragedy have occurred in a democratic society that prides itself on individual rights and freedoms? I have brooded about this whole episode on and off for the past three decades…” -Milton Eisenhower, director of the War Relocation Authority

Dan Breen on the internment of 16,000 Japanese Americans

tuskegeebondposterMood Indigo: African Americans and the War: More than 1 million African Americans fought in World War II, in a military that would not be desegregated until 1949. They were often treated as second class citizens by military commanders, and the accomplishments of black WWII servicemen have been underestimated and under-reported. But on the field and on the battlefield as well as the homefront, the war sowed the seeds of the civil rights movement that later transformed this country’s political and social landscape.

“They battled Nazism and Fascism in the skies over North Africa and Europe, and racism on the ground back in the United States. They painted the tails of their P-51s bright red, and names like “Hammerin’ Hank,” “Creamer’s Dream,” and “‘Mo’ Downs” on the sides of their aircraft. But what really made the Tuskegee Airmen distinct was the fact that they never lost a bomber during some 200 escort missions during World War II.” – from Air Force News Service article, Aug 1995 by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe

Dan Breen on how the war set the stage for desegregation.

1942_grinderWomen Join the Workforce: During World War II, the number of women in the workforce increased by about 25%. Although many of these women left the workforce when American servicemen returned home, the second world war helped lay the groundwork for the feminist movement of the 1970s.

“The first thing to do to win your war is to lose your amateur standing. Girls and young women are needed badly and immediately for the daily jobs that must go on if our world is to go on…Somewhere, right near you, there is an empty job that must be filled; a job a man has left to go where he was told to go. He may have driven a bus, a taxi or a trolley; he may have worked in a bank, a drugstore or a telegraph office. If he can do what he is doing now, certainly you can do what he used to do. For God’s sake–are we women or are we mice?” -writer Dorothy Parker, in an article that appeared in the May 1943 issue of Mademoiselle magazine

Professor Dan Breen on the effect of women joining the workforce.

normandyThe Experience of Combat: D Day, a documentary from PBS The American Experience “D-Day is told entirely with rare archival footage — much of it never shown before — and the voices of 43 people who were there. Produced by Charles Guggenheim, the film is also a centerpiece for the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. It should never be forgotten that, of all events of our tumultuous 20th century, perhaps the most important was the defeat of the Nazi empire; and for a long and very dark time, for nearly five years, that outcome was by no means certain. D-Day was the turning point. It was day one of the final drive to complete Allied victory.”

The first brief communique was electrifying — “London, Tuesday, June 6, 1944: Under command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.” The world caught its breath. Not since 1688 had an invading army crossed the English Channel, but now it was happening — Operation Overlord, D-Day, the all-out attack on Hitler’s fortress Europe. The first assault wave hit the beaches of Normandy at 6:30 a.m.

The place of the landing was the best-kept, most important secret of the war in Europe, and success depended on elaborate deception; but it was the individual valor of the men who went ashore in combination with the greatest marshaling of ships, planes and guns ever in history that were decisive. Never was America’s productive might so dramatically employed. The armada reached as far as the eye could see.” —from The American Experience

“At the edge of the cliffs, the wind is a smack, and D-day becomes wildly clear: climbing that cutting edge into the bullets.” — John Vinocur

Dan Breen on what you might be surprised to learn about the largest sea borne invasion in military history.

courageEnd Note: A reporter from the Patriot Ledger newspaper who wrote a story about this website asked me about the importance of World War Two. I’m not an historian–I’m not even a very astute observer of politics or culture or finances. But the financial crisis that is now enveloping the US and other countries has an “end of the century” feel to it that entirely by coincidence makes the library’s ww2 programs and site feel as much like a farewell to the America created by that war as it does a remembrance.

The promise and sheer capital that the war generated seems to have been spent, and now we are again looking at tough times and looking for leaders who can help summon not just the policies of recovery, but a collective national will to re-imagine how we live and how we think.

In our final interview, Dan Breen looks at the future through the lens of World War Two, and finds every reason to be optimistic.

“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” -Aristotle

Please! Leave us a comment. Share your thoughts and memories.

Thank you.

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‘Sarsaparilla!’

Just one word.

But the beginning of a most unbelievable story of World War II.  One that never made the headlines because of the tight security and secrecy surrounding it.

I first wrote about it after the war in the 1950s.  It goes back to Armistice Day (Veterans Day), November 1943 and Norfolk, VA.  I was a signalman on the destroyer USS Cogswell and had the signal watch that particular night.  Our captain, Comdr. Harold Deuterman said to me:  “I am expecting an important message.  It might be only one word–sarsaparilla.  If it comes, awake me immediately.”

It wasn’t too long before the battleship USS Iowa reached out of the inky darkness with a flashing signal light.  Three dots, dot dash, dot dash dot and so on until the flashes spelled S-A-R-S-A-P-A-R-I-L-L-A.   The captain was awakened and the message relayed to two other destroyers, one of them the William D. Porter.

Whatever else “sarsaparilla” meant it told us to get underway.  Around midnight, the Iowa and its screening escorts the Cogswell, Porter and another destroyer whose name I don’t remember slipped quietly out to sea under cover of darkness while Norfolk slept.

It was a mysterious trip.  No one told us where we were going but you could tell something was up.

A few days later we were nearing Gibraltar.  I was on the bridge with other signalmen.  A quiet, peaceful day–until the silence was shattered by a booming cry: ‘T-O-R-P-E-D-O”!  And there it was–a torpedo streaking through the water toward the Iowa.

The Iowa was warned by emergency flag hoists and a talk-between-ships telephone.  She managed to turn to avoid the torpedo, which exploded about 50 yards behind in her wake.

General quarters were sounded and the Cogswell crew rushed to their battle stations as we prowled the area looking for the German submarine to drop depth charges on.  But we couldn’t locate the sub.  Then we learned there was no sub to locate.  The torpedo was not from a German submarine.  It had been fired from the Porter.
The flag officer in charge of the destroyer escort was on the Cogswell and sputtered and fumed when the Porter informed us “that was our torpedo”.  The Porter, it was later learned, had its torpedo mounts aimed at the Iowa in a simulated attack training session.  A live torpedo in one of the tubes was accidentally fired and sped toward the Iowa’s No. 2 Magazine.  If the torpedo had hit, it could have sunk the Iowa.

The flag officer continued to sputter.  Why all the rage, I thought to myself, a young kid from Quincy Point.  After all, it didn’t hit the Iowa.  But he knew something that we didn’t know.

On the Iowa were Harry Hopkins, Admirals Leahy, McIntire and Cook.  Generals Marshall, Arnold, Handy, Somervell and Watson, according to Hopkins’ private papers made public after the war.  Not only that, but with them was Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations.  And someone else was aboard the Iowa:  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  We were escorting him to the Teheran Conference to meet with Churchill, Stalin and Chiang Kai-Shek.

We later turned the Iowa over to another division of destroyers one day out of Africa.  The Cogswell and Porter headed to Bermuda.  The Porter was held in Bermuda for a board of inquiry investigation with the whole ship under arrest.  The board found that the Iowa episode was an accident with no evidence of any sabotage.  The Porter was ordered to the Aleutian Islands apparently as punishment duty.  But that didn’t end our relationship.

The Cogswell headed for the Panama Canal and out to the Pacific where we screened the carriers in the Third and Fifth Fleets.  And on to the Marshalls, Truk, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, the Philippines, China Sea, Formosa, the Bonnin Islands, etc.  Forgotten was the William D. Porter.

But now it was June 1945 and Okinawa, the doorstep to the Japanese mainland.  The Cogswell was assigned to radar picket duty between Okinawa and Japan with other destroyers.  Two destroyers would go out together as a team.

On June 10, the Cogswell moved out to take its picket station.  Out came another destroyer to join us.  We could hardly believe it.  It was the William D. Porter, which we hadn’t seen since the Iowa incident.

We took our positions abouat 500 yards apart.  And suddenly there was a Japanese Kamikaze high in the sky and diving down on us.  We fired all our guns at the plane but it got through.  Now the pilot had to make a quick decision, which destroyer would be his target.  He picked the Porter.

We thought it crashed onto the Porter.  But according to the Navy version, it was a near-miss.  The plane’s bomb apparently passed under the Porter before exploding, causing uncontrolled flooding.  LCS hurried to the Porter’s side to take off 350 crewmembers.  Word was there there were no fatalities.

About three hours later, the Porter rolled over on her starboard side.  Her bow shot up like the grasping hand of a person drowning and she slipped into her watery grave.  It was a sad sight.

We were with her only twice.  One day firing a torpedo at the President of the United States and the other taking a Kamikaze instead of us.  She was a hard luck ship.  Jinxed.

by Henry Bosworth, Quincy Sun (November 6, 2008)

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I had no idea when I joined the WAVES in 1943 that I would be holding so many memories close to me some 50-odd years later.

My assignment, after training at Oklahoma A&M, was with Naval Communications, 3801 Nebraska Ave., Washington, D.C.  I did not know until I left the service in 1945 how important my assignment in OP-20-GZ (Top Secret) was.  Sworn to secrecy upon entering, we were sworn to secrecy even upon leaving.

It was not until 1976 that President Jimmy Carter lifted the veil of secrecy which began an outpouring of intriguing information formerly kept under wraps.  One of the first released books was And I Was There by Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton and Captain Roger Pineau and there, popping out of the pages were the officers I had worked with–they were cryptoanalysts and cryptolinguists.  And further into the book, a number of pages were devoted to information regarding Dorothy Edgers, a civilian codebreaker who occupied the desk right next to mine.  In 1941, in this same office, Dorothy had broken the code that would have possibly stopped the attack on Pearl Harbor but no one paid any attention to her as she had worked in the GZ only two weeks.  I was so proud to have known her.

My job? I was a yeoman and did my job but I cannot remember too many of the details.  I remember something or other about the Japanese telegraphic code KATA KANA but since I was told to forget, I did.  I do remember large books upon a long table filled with code and I remember the linguists using the Japanese language (a little of which I had learned).  The code messages mainly had to do with fleet movements in the Pacific.  It was an exciting–if not mysterious–office to be assigned to.

So much time has passed but the thing I am proudest of is having joined the Navy back in February 1943.  I spent almost three years in one of those buildings [at 3801 Nebraska Avenue] that had been the home of Navy cryptology.  I’ll never forget 3801 though time and a vow of silence taken at that time have taken much of the memory of what we did there.  Vows lifted, but too late–the memory diminished.  I just know I loved what I was doing and felt very important.

By J. Frances Wyckoff, originally published in U.S. Navy Cruiser and Sailor Magazine, Fall 1996

For a fuller account of Wyckoff’s WAVES experience and more photos, visit A WAVE IN OP-20-GZ DURING WORLD WAR II.

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The U.S. wartime merchant fleet constituted one of the most significant contributions to the winning of the Second World War, by means of carrying supplies, equipment and men.  Merchants faced danger from submarines, mines, armed raiders, destroyers, aircraft “kamikaze”, and the elements.  One in 26 mariners serving aboard merchant ships in World War II died in the line of duty, suffering a greater percentage of war-related deaths than all other services.

This is an account from the experience of one of those brave men, my stepfather First Mate John J. Diehl, sailing on one of the 36 victory ships in the dangerous North Atlantic waters, under the protection of a convoy trying desperately to defend the merchant ships and their cargo.  While on the Murmansk Run, they were being attacked relentlessly in the dark of night, outnumbered and outmaneuvered by German U-boats (Wolf Packs).

At that time, the fleet was delivering Lend Lease supplies to Soviet Russia.  It was the most perilous route for convoys in July 1942, as only 11 of the 36 merchant men ships in Convoy PG17 reached Murmansk.  My stepfather was one of the lucky 11 to reach his destination, and after the war ended he studied and earned the title of captaincy in the Merchant Marine.  Later taking part in the Korean Campaign, he was given the “King Neptune Ceremony” aboard his ship, which describes his having sailed all seven seas.

Submitted by Beverly Brand, Quincy

To find out more about the experience of Merchant Mariners during World War II, check the library catalog for this recent oral history on the topic.

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