By Ginny McPartland
To anyone who knows Phyllis Gould, it’s no surprise that at age 92 she’s making news. As a woman who’s lived her life with fierce independence and fearlessness, her persistence in gaining recognition in the White House for female World War II defense workers is merely her latest exploit.
Gould is the organizer of a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., for a group of California “Rosie the Riveters,” beginning this Saturday.
The Rosie tour group, including Gould’s little sister Marian Sousa, 88, have been invited to meet Vice President Joe Biden in his office on Monday.
Phyllis’ dogged letter-writing campaign, conducted over the years of the Obama presidency, finally hit paydirt last month when Biden phoned her to extend a personal invitation to the nation’s capital city.
“They (Biden’s office) called me the day before to tell me when he would call. I picked up the phone and he said ‘Phyllis, this is Joe Biden, Vice President Biden.”
Biden continued: “I know you were hired in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, Calif., as one of the first six women welders. That’s pretty impressive kid!”
Paving the way for today’s women
Thrilled by the Biden invitation, Gould is quick to explain the motivation of her quest. “This isn’t about personal glory. “I wanted this visit to bring attention to the fact that our generation had to struggle to earn the right to work in a man’s world,” she said. “Young women need to know this history and realize we paved the way for them. I think that knowledge has been lost.”
Gould, a farm girl from Eugene, Oregon, was one of the first women welders admitted to the Boilermakers Union in Richmond, Calif., and to be hired in the Kaiser shipyards in July 1942.
She first earned the status of journeyman (proficient) welder by passing a prescribed test in her first year in the shipyard. Later, she was one of only a few workers – male or female – who achieved U.S. Navy certification as a welder during World War II.[i]
A long life of adventures
In the 70 years since her defense industry stint, Phyllis Gould married a burner-turned-hairdresser, raised five children, worked as a government inspector in an ammunition factory and achieved success as an interior decorator.[ii]
She built her own cabin in rural Bolinas near the Sonoma Coast, where her daughters attended high school. Over the years, she has collected discarded bits of fabric and other materials to create clothing and countless pieces of folk art and paintings.
For a time in the 1970s, she immersed herself in Native American history and culture and wore her hair in two long braids with feather ties at the ends. She traveled to a Nebraska reservation where she participated in a private, tribe-members-only sun dance, and the next year went on a class field trip to visit Native American sites in Arizona.
In the late 1970s, she became friends with the rock group The Tubes through a mutual friend in San Francisco and has been to many of their shows and been invited back stage to hang out with the band. She also attended a Tubes recording session in Los Angeles.
She traveled on her own in her pickup truck/camper to all 50 states, including Alaska, where she worked for seven summers in the 1980s as a cook for the staff of Denali National Park.
Phyllis was one of the few West Coast shipyard workers whose story was told through an audio clip and photos at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans.
She’s been interviewed about her life as a Rosie many times over the past 10 years as the Rosie the Riveter national park and UC Berkeley staff have developed materials that document life in the shipyards.
Pre-World War II life
A look at Phyllis’ pre-World War II life shows how roles and opportunities for women in the 1930s and 1940s were limited.
A carefree 17-year-old who loved to go barefoot, Phyllis McKey Gould quit school in 1938 and shortly thereafter answered: “Sure!” when her boyfriend of three years asked quite casually: “Wanna get married tomorrow?”
The couple set up household in a tiny cottage, had a baby boy and she lived the traditional life of a 1930s housewife with her husband as breadwinner and the man of the house. She cooked, cleaned and took care of the baby while he worked in a sawmill.
They bought a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle by saving from his 37.5- cents-per-hour Depression-era wage. Today she recalls learning to drive the cycle but never mastering the skill.
The couple followed a friend to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1939 and when the U.S. entered the war in 1941, Phyllis was drawn inexorably to the seemingly wild and exciting idea of working as a welder in the shipyards.
The war changed everything
“Every Sunday we went for a Sunday drive. And this one Sunday, the guys in the front seat were talking about going to welding school and getting a job in the shipyards.
“And I piped up and said, “That’s what I want to do, too.” And I don’t think (her husband) believed me. He certainly didn’t approve of it.”
Her husband learned the craft, joined the union and become a shipyard welder. For Phyllis, the road to that well-paying job was a bit bumpier.
One day shortly after she finished welder training, she took the bus to the hiring hall in Oakland. “They said: ‘You have to join the Boilermakers Union.’ So I went to the union hall.
“It was a dark place and there was this big man dressed in dark clothes, and he just said, “No. We don’t take women or blacks.”
But Phyllis didn’t give up. She went back again the next day and was again told no. The third time she was again turned away but was surprised by a man who told her to go up to the window and apply again – and this time she was hired.
Later she learned that the Boilermakers had just adopted a new policy to accept women because workers of all kinds were sorely needed as the shipyards ramped up production in mid-1942.
When she made journeyman less than a year later, her husband wasn’t happy. “Here’s this proud man who expected to be the head of his household, take care of his family, and here I am. I’m doing the same work he’s doing and I’m getting the same pay for it.”
Phyllis looks back on her failed marriage without regret: “If the war had not come along and I hadn’t gone to work I would have stayed with him, not knowing any better. And been kind of a pale shadow of what I became.”
Asserting her independence in the years following her shipyard experience, today Phyllis finds herself as someone who doesn’t shrink from dogging the White House until her message is heard.
By Ginny McPartland
Six San Francisco Bay Area women will represent female World War II defense workers across the nation when they travel next week to Washington, D.C., to be honored by Vice President Joe Biden.
Thousands of American women, as teenagers and young adults 70 years ago, stepped out of their traditional roles during World War II to build ships, aircraft and other war materiel crucial to Allied victory in 1945. Like the men who fought the war, the ranks of defense workers are thinning out more every day.
Phyllis Gould, 92, a welder in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards in the 1940s, resolved six years ago to arrange for a group of Rosies to go to the White House. Following Gould’s relentless letter-writing campaign, they’re leaving Saturday and will meet Biden in his office on Monday.
Here are brief biographies of the women making the trip:
Priscilla Elder, 93, an electrician in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards, was the third of 11 children raised in Iowa. Priscilla followed her older sister to Richmond after her husband was drafted and sent to fight in Europe with the Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton.
Her twin sister followed Priscilla to California, and they both were hired as electricians to wire circuit boxes on troop transport ships built at Kaiser Shipyard No. 3. Priscilla’s 22-month-old son attended the Maritime Child Development Center, which was renovated in 2010 and reopened as a preschool.
Kay Morrison, 90, a native of Chico, Calif., came to Richmond with her carpenter husband in 1941 to find work. Her husband Ray was hired right away in Shipyard No. 2. She wanted to become a welder but at first she couldn’t get a job because the Boilermakers Union was not yet accepting women.
In 1943, she was hired as a welder and worked the graveyard shift in Shipyard No. 3 with her husband. The couple lived in San Francisco and commuted to Richmond by ferry. After three months, she took the test to become a journeyman (proficient) welder.
After the war, Ray continued his work in shipbuilding and Kay eventually went to work at Bank of America where she was employed for 30 years and retired in 1984 as bank manager.
Marian Sousa, 88, a draftsman in the Engineering Department, is Phyllis Gould’s younger sister. She came down to Richmond from Eugene, Ore., to take care of Phyllis’s young son. After graduating from high school, she took a drafting course at UC Berkeley and was hired to make blueprint revisions at Shipyard No. 2.
Another sister, Marge, arrived later and got a job as a welder; the girls’ mother, Mildred, followed later when her husband, a career military man, was posted to Camp Stoneman near Pittsburg, Calif. She put her youngest daughter in child care and went to work at the shipyards as a painter.
Phyllis and her husband bought a house in San Pablo that, though small, housed the whole extended family. The beds were in use around the clock as family members alternately slept and worked a shift at the shipyards.
Marian Wynn, 87, like Priscilla Elder, was the third child in a family of 11 raised in the Midwest. Her father migrated from Minnesota to Richmond, Calif., in 1942 to become an electrician lead man in Kaiser Shipyard No. 3. She wanted to follow her father right away but agreed to wait until she finished high school.
After graduation, she traveled by bus to Richmond and was hired as a pipe welder in West Storage in Shipyard No. 3. After the war, she didn’t return to Minnesota because she met and married her husband, a Navy man stationed at Treasure Island near San Francisco.
Agnes Moore, 94, grew up on a farm in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the sixth of seven children. She came to California in 1942 to visit her brother and sister. While driving in San Francisco, she heard a radio advertisement for shipyard workers.
“Women, do something for your country. Go to Richmond shipyard and become a welder,” she recalls the radio announcer saying. The ad spurred her to drive over to Richmond and apply. She was hired in 1942, and in 1943 she passed the test to become a journeyman welder. Agnes worked in the shipyard until the end of the war in 1945, longer than the average Rosie.
By Lincoln Cushing
“The first Liberty ship was named after Patrick Henry. The last 100 have been named for merchant seamen who died in wartime service.” –Fore ‘n’ Aft, Kaiser Richmond shipyard newsletter, May 18, 1945.[i]
Almost 1,500 World War II Liberty and Victory ships were built in the Kaiser shipyards. What most people do not realize is that they were not produced for the U.S. Navy – they were made for the United States Maritime Commission, an independent federal agency created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.[ii]
These ships were vital to winning the war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a message congratulating those who built the ships:
“This headquarters has just heard the glorious news that American shipyards have produced more than 2,100 merchant vessels in the past two years.
“This remarkable record, unequaled in history, will bring confidence and encouragement to every soldier, sailor and airman in the Allied Forces, for they are most keenly aware that their ability to carry on the fight, indeed, their ability to survive, is completely dependent on ships . . . Ships, still more ships, and ever more ships will help smash the enemy.”[iii]
But ships don’t run by themselves. Merchant seamen staffed those vessels and thus served a vital – and dangerous – function during World War II. Although usually thought of as civilians, these seamen were “military” according to International Law because their ships were armed – albeit lightly. The merchant mariners were trained to shoot and could fire on the enemy if threatened.
President Roosevelt lauds seamen
President Roosevelt declared in 1944: “It seems to me particularly appropriate that Victory Fleet Day this year should honor the men and management of the American Merchant Marine.
“The operators in this war have written one of its most brilliant chapters. They have delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken.
“As time goes on, there will be greater public understanding of our merchant fleet’s record during this war,” Roosevelt said.[iv]
Legislation to equalize benefits for merchant seamen with those afforded members of the armed services under the GI Bill languished in Congress, despite the president’s endorsement and support from Admiral Emory S. Land, chairman of the Maritime Commission.
“I cannot see how this endorsement could possibly affect our dealings with the various unions since the purpose of the bill is to compensate the seamen for the personal risks these men take daily while in the service.
“As Admiral Land points out . . . more than 5,700 merchant seamen have lost their lives or have been reported missing in action, and over 500 of them are prisoners of war.
“True enough, merchant seamen receive considerably more pay than do the men in the Armed Services, but that alone does not warrant the conclusion that they are not entitled to the added protection recommended by Admiral Land.
“ . . . [it is] my conclusion that you should join with the President and Admiral Land in recommending this legislation (because) any other course would be inconsistent with your advocacy of merchant seamen’s needs in the past. I recommend this even though it is a departure from your standard position regarding endorsements of proposed legislation.”
Yet with Roosevelt’s untimely death on April 12, 1945, political support for extending basic benefits to merchant seamen for their wartime service vanished until Congress awarded them veterans’ status 40-plus years later in 1988 – too late for half of those who served.
Special thanks to Toni Horodysky, historian behind the American Merchant Marine at War website, for help with this article.
[i] Not only were 100 ships thusly named, an additional 20 were named for merchant mariners who received the Distinguished Service Medal. Only one of these – the SS Samuel L. Cobb, launched May 27, 1944, named for a seaman lost April 17, 1942, aboard the SS Alcoa Guide – was built in a Kaiser shipyard.
[ii] Although building merchant ships was its top priority, until the Maritime Commission became the Federal Maritime Commission in 1950 it was also responsible for training ship’s officers under the U.S. Maritime Service.
[iii] General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in the Mediterranean area, message to home front workers, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 10/22/1943
[iv] Franklin D. Roosevelt, public address 9/19/1944.
[v] Inter-Office memo from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser, 12/23/1944; Henry J. Kaiser papers, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, BANC 26:25-4
The National Park Service is looking for personal stories from the World War II Home Front that will shed light on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in the war industries.
Unconventional sexual relationships were necessarily kept under wraps in the 1940s because if they came to light the people involved could be arrested and suffer discrimination and harassment by co-workers, family, friends and employers.
Although largely undocumented, same-sex relationships existed in defense industries, and the park service wants to capture these stories before the last of the aging Home Front workers are deceased.
“There is a sense of urgency for the park to collect these and other under-represented stories, since many people from this generation have already passed away,” said Elizabeth Tucker, lead park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif.
Since the park was established in 2000, individuals have shared many stories and artifacts related to life in the 1940s; but some aspects of civilian life have not been chronicled.
“Likely due to the prejudice and severe legal, economic and social consequences of revealing sexual orientation in the 1940s, the park’s museum collection does not yet have any information about LGBT civilians,” Tucker said.
The NPS has engaged public historian Donna Graves to produce a LGBT traveling exhibit in 2015. Stories, photos and artifacts collected in the coming months will become part of the show to honor the history and contribution of LGBT civilians.
The National Park Service and the Rosie the Riveter Trust are sponsoring a special LGBT event 3 p.m. Monday, March 24, at the Lesbian Social Club in Rossmoor, a large retirement community in Walnut Creek, 15 miles east of Oakland.
Therese Ambrosi Smith, author of “Wax,” a novel about two Kaiser Richmond Shipyard workers, will be keynote speaker. The group will discuss the themes in Smith’s book, including the realization of one of the workers after the war that she was a lesbian.
The group will also discuss the book “Against the Current: Coming out in the 1940s” by Beverly Hickok, a riveter at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica during World War II. Hickok, who was the head librarian of Transportation Library at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley for 32 years, published the book in 2004.
Hickok, 95, will be a guest at the Monday event and is expected to speak and to sign her book. A limited number of copies of “Against the Current” will be available to purchase.
In her book, Hickok tells the story of a young woman who begins to accept her lesbianism while a student at UC Berkeley. Although fictionalized, the story mirrors Hickok’s actual life as a riveter in a defense plant and a librarian after the war.
Angela Brinskele, director of communications for the Mazer Lesbian Archives, wrote this review of Hickok’s book on Amazon.com: “This is a well-written book about the fascinating early life of Beverly Hickok. It is an excellent way to get a real understanding of what lesbians had to face when simply trying to live life true to themselves in mid-century America.
“I mean after all, can you even imagine what coming out in the 40’s would be like? For most of us today it is hard to imagine a time when you could be arrested for simply being gay.”
Ranger Tucker invites anyone who would like to share a LGBT story from the 1940s or to attend the Walnut Creek event to call the park’s confidential phone line, 510-232-5050, ext. 6631.
The Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park Visitor Education Center, 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The center is located on the site of the former Kaiser Richmond Shipyard No. 2. Kaiser Permanente traces its origins to the wartime shipyards.
On the Home Front of World War II, the Child Service Centers in the Henry J. Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon would become one of the greatest experiments in preschool education and child care of the 20th century under the leadership of Lois Meek Stolz.
And medical care was a key component of that program, along with good food service, including carry-out dinners for the families that parents could pick up at the end of their work shifts.
Even before Dr. Sidney R. Garfield was released from the Army by President Franklin Roosevelt to organize the medical care program that would become Kaiser Permanente, a doctor named Forrest Rieke was hired as the first physician in the Portland Swan Island Kaiser Shipyard.
As medical consultant to Stoltz’s project, Rieke witnessed first hand the results of round-the-clock child care for the shipyard families. The experiment, Dr. Rieke told the Oregon Historical Society in a 1976 oral history, was expensive, “as experiments often are” and “very successful.”
The medical outcomes impressed him especially. Children often were malnourished and ill when they arrived with their Depression era, out of work parents. But with shipyard jobs for the parents, child care and medical care for the entire family, their world rapidly improved.
Said Dr. Rieke: “There was no question in any of our minds about what we proved. That was that kids, in these circumstances, thrive. They gain weight, they get pink-cheeked and they start getting happy…This made a great difference, in my judgment, and I’ve said so ever since…”
Edgar F. Kaiser, left, then chairman of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, and President Lyndon B. Johnson shake hands at a White House reception in 1968.
The occasion was Johnson’s creation of the Urban Institute to serve as the Government’s center for research into the problems of poverty and urban decay in American cities. Johnson saw the Urban Institute as a way to “bridge the gulf between the lonely scholar in search of truth and the decision-maker in search of progress.” Edgar Kaiser, also chairman of Kaiser Industries, Inc., was one of the national leaders appointed to the founding board of trustees of the Urban Institute.
Kaiser was just completing his role as chairman of the President’s Committee on Urban Housing that published “A Decent Home” later that year. Dubbed the Kaiser Committee, it played a major role in helping to address urban housing issues that President Johnson called “the nation’s most urgent domestic task.” The following year, President Johnson honored Kaiser with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil honor for service to the country.
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To learn about the Kaiser Permanente clinic that resembles a small medical center on wheels, go to the Center for Total Health blog.
Editor’s note: Kaiser Permanente physician and educator Martin Shearn and his wife Lori traveled to Brazil in 1973 where Dr. Shearn served as chief of staff for the SS Hope hospital ship docked in Maceio, a poor coastal community in Northeast Brazil.
By Lori Shearn
Fifth in a series
For the year we spent with Project Hope in Maceio, Brazil, we were ever aware that the sick and disabled in the region were hoping against all odds that the American doctors on the big white ship would cure them.
While in Maceio, the Hope staff admitted 1,400 patients for treatment in SS Hope’s 108-bed floating hospital. They performed 1,135 major surgical operations that required a total of over 1,350 hours in the ship’s three operating rooms.
Many patients’ health was improved and many were cured. Some became worse (for any number of unknown reasons) and some died. Like in any hospital, anywhere, most patients demonstrated diseases in the worst possible form.
Some of my days were spent working very closely with the patients. I assisted the staff working as a ward clerk. In addition, when the need arose, I filled in as admissions officer.
I enjoyed introducing patients to their first exposure to the Hope Hospital, an American institution. They were frightened and confused. Fortunately, I could understand and speak Portuguese well enough to allay their fears.
The stories of the children were particularly touching. There were hundreds of children born with cleft palates and/or lips. The magic of plastic surgery for those who were admitted for the procedure was incredible, but unfortunately, not every child who was afflicted could be accepted under the criteria worked out by the community and the doctors.
Four-year-old Moises was the very first patient of the year. His tiny face was split by a complete cleft lip, which was overgrown with an enormous protuberance obscuring half of his face. Nevertheless, he never stopped smiling and he became poster boy for Project Hope with his photograph in all the newspapers.
The operation was successful in creating a beautiful new face for him. His young parents could not believe their good fortune, and after Moises discovered a tiny rocking chair, he spent his days in the hospital happily rocking, melting the hearts of each of us who passed him on the hospital floor.
The parents who brought 9-month-old Manuel knew their baby was very sick. He was the youngest of many children, and they wished to relieve his suffering. He had a brain tumor and he was comatose, but there was just the slightest glimmer of hope that if the tumor were benign, its removal might save the child.
Upon surgery, the doctors found that the tumor was indeed benign, but its location was such that it could not be removed without impairing major brain functions.
The parents remained on the ship faithfully throughout the baby’s surgery and convalescence. Manuel was terribly important to them. Even though (in 1973) 50 percent of the children in the Maceio area of Northeastern Brazil did not live to be five years old, parents were not in the least matter-of-fact about losing a child.
Manuel’s death was slow and terrible, and all the family and staff suffered with him. The saddest blow of all came on the day Manuel died and we learned that the parents could not afford to buy a coffin.
Throughout their ordeal they had held up pretty well, but not to be able to bury their baby properly presented an unbearable burden. Fortunately, staff donations paid for a tiny coffin for Manuel and his body left the ship for the last time.
Maria Luisa was 12 years old. She was brought to us because of a basketball-sized tumor on the side of her neck. It caused her to hold her head at a permanent angle. How much anguish that child must have suffered!
Her experience with the local hospital nine years earlier was heartbreaking, but typical, as described by her mother:
“When Maria Luisa was three years old, a small lump appeared on her neck. We live a four-hour bus ride from the hospital, but I brought her in to see the doctors at Santa Casa (the local community hospital). They said it was some kind of a tumor and they wanted to do some tests on my baby,” her mother told me.
The local hospital performed a biopsy on Maria Luisa and two weeks later, the doctor told her mother that the biopsy had been lost, and that they didn’t know what to do for the child.
At that point, the distraught mother went home, expecting the tumor to kill her baby. Instead, years later on the Hope, they saw that the tumor had continued to grow and grow and somehow, the child had learned to live with the grotesque burden as best she could.
Hope found the tumor to be benign, not malignant, and doctors were able to remove the gigantic cyst that weighed 20 pounds. Her neck muscles had to be retrained to hold her neck straight, but after convalescence and physical therapy, Maria Luisa went home without the huge tumor to a new life.
The stories of Maria Luisa, Moises and Manuel have stayed with me and I feel gratified that we were able to touch their lives, even though happy endings were sometimes elusive.
Margaret “Peggy” O’Dell, deputy director of the National Park Service operations, will be keynote speaker at the Rosie the Riveter Trust annual gala dinner at the former Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, Calif.
The fundraising dinner, Saturday, April 12, will feature a champagne reception, fine wine and a gourmet dinner. The event will be in the F&P Cannery building at 1200 Harbour Way South on the Richmond waterfront.
O’Dell, whose career with the NPS has spanned 30 years, was appointed deputy director in January of 2011. She served as regional director of the National Capital Region for the previous two years and before that she was the superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C.
She began her National Park Service career as a seasonal interpreter at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial – the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo. – when she was a history student at the University of Missouri.
O’Dell has also held positions at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Southern Missouri, Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota, and Harpers Ferry Center in West Virginia. In 2004, she returned to the Jefferson National Expansion Monument as superintendent.
As NPS deputy superintendent, O’Dell plays a major role in managing a $3.1 billion budget and more than 20,000 employees that serve in 394 national parks and offices around the country.
She oversees every aspect of park operations including the preservation and protection of 84 million acres, 100 million museum objects, 37,000 historic structures, 85,000 miles of rivers and streams, as well as services for the more than 285 million people who visit the national parks every year.
Besides the parks, O’Dell is also responsible for the NPS community-based historic preservation programs, from the National Register of Historic Places, to national heritage areas, to a tax credit program that encourages private investment to rehabilitate historic buildings for new uses.
If interested in attending the dinner, contact the Rosie the Riveter Trust.
By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
“Whenever and wherever Americans gather, there you hear Americans singing, because America is a singing nation.”
This is the stirring introduction to a recording of patriotic music from the Oct. 27, 1945, launching celebration of the SS Bent’s Fort, the last tanker built in the Kaiser Swan Island Shipyards in Portland, Oregon, under the wartime contract.
“Song of the Victory Fleet” is performed by “The Singing Sentinels,” four Oregon Shipbuilding Company security guards (Del Von Zuethen, Chuck Faris, John “Ken” Rogers and Mel Gordon) who provided entertainment at ship launchings and other
After the war they continued as the “Kaiser-Frazer Singing Sentinels” at the Willow Run automobile plant in Michigan.[ii]
We’ll build and sail ‘em – We’ll never fail ‘em!
The Victory Fleet will be complete we know.
On every ocean, we’ll be in motion,
The Victory Fleet will soon defeat the foe.
We’ll have a bridge of ships beyond compare,
We’ll soon be able to walk from here to over there.
The world is cheering! The skies are clearing!
With the Victory Fleet – Let’s go.
“Song of the Victory Fleet”
words and music by
Leonard Whiteup, 1942 (1903-1979)
“Song of the Victory Fleet” was first performed May 22, 1942, at the initial wartime observance of National Maritime Day.
It was dedicated to the U.S. Maritime Commission, and immediately adopted as theirs.
Congress established National Maritime Day in 1933 to honor our country’s role in marine transportation; at the time the Merchant Marine was quite small. But that all changed with World War II .
Absent from this recording is the interlude:
In the fact’ries hear the hammers night and day.
In the shipyards everyone is on his way.
On the ocean every seaman joins the fray.
We heard the bugles blow! We answered our country’s call!
We’re ready one and all!
Journalist Peter Edson, writing his column for the Times Daily, had this to say when the song premiered:
“The song is one of those rousing sea chanteys that even a landlubber building lifeboats in Kokomo can limber up his larynx on and get a belt out of bellowing or barber shopping.
“And when you accompany the tune with full orchestration and sound effects of riveting hammers, clanking anchor chains and the blowing of full-lunged baritone and bass steamship whistles – matey, it does something to your morale.
“Morale building is the big idea behind observance of Maritime Day this year and this whole shipping program is something to give your spine a tingle. It isn’t just something to celebrate on salt water, either, with maybe the Great Lakes thrown in for good measure.
“There will be big celebrations in the 60 shipyards where, on some 300 ways, ocean-going ships are under construction.”
After the war, celebrations of service focused on those in the military, and merchant mariners were left out of the festivities. Maritime Day ceased, but in 1970 the Maritime Administration resurrected this observance of honoring veterans of the merchant marine and those who gave their lives in service to the United States. That observance has been held every year since then.
Hear the Singing Sentinels perform “Song of the Victory Fleet”
Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/1cCZjRh
[i] Article on the Singing Sentinels, http://weirdportland.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-singing-sentinels.html
[ii] Article in Saline (MI) Observer 3/20/1947