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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/28/11

A National Park for City Slickers

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Say the words "National Park" in front of a New York City resident and he (or she) will have a Rorschach reaction and immediately conjure up images of grouchy grizzly bears, surly rattlesnakes, and insatiable bloodthirsty mosquitoes lurking in vast patches of poison ivy.

There is, however, a slim hope that they can be weaned away from their natural aversion to any location perceived by them as harboring a vast array of examples of photosynthesis at work and that ultimately they can be convinced to visit a countervailing example which can be found in Richmond California where the Department of the Interior has established the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park to commemorate the effort civilian workers provided for America's participation in the FDR era defense of the Four Freedoms.

Visitors to this unique tourist attraction won't need to lug along a bird-spotting guidebook nor a botanist's knowledge of poison oak and/or ivy.   The only plant they will see is a facility for making Ford automobiles that was converted into a segment of the Kaiser Shipbuilding assembly line that was located in the East Bay section of the San Francisco Bay.

Park visitors should bring a curiosity about history and a vivid imagination, which is tempered by accurate period information.   Those visitors who augment their tourist experience by conjuring up Busby Berkeley-ish images of a beehive of homogenous and harmonious workers toiling in synchronized hall of mirrors type images, will have their illusions shattered by park ranger Betty Reid Soskin.   She will tell visitors about the animosity and rancor that was rampant during the period of unified purpose.   She should know; she can provide a vivid "what it was really like" description of the WWII events because she was part of it.   That last sentence may raise the hackles of even the most amateurish fact finder, but you read it right.  

If anyone had attended the 20th birthday party for Betty Reid Soskin, they might have faced a wall of incredulity if they had (accurately) predicted that almost seventy years later, she, as the oldest National Park Ranger in America, would be blogging about her work and the preparations for receiving her doctoral degree at an institute of higher learning because, in November of 1941, she would, in the next four years, have to contend with problems of race and gender discrimination, minimum wages, inflation and cost of living raises, and seven day work weeks.  

According to our recollections of some serendipity reading of back issues of Time and Newsweek, dated soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, some politicians advanced the idea that the (relatively) recent laws, enacting overtime pay after 40 hours of work within one week, should be suspended for the duration of the war in order for workers not to be guilty of war profiteering.   Ironically, later in World War II, workers had to call wildcat strikes because their regular wages were not keeping pace with the War Time rate of inflation.  

Dealing with capitalists on wage issues brings to mind a Laurel and Hardy comedy routine in which a coin would be flipped to make a decision.   Laurel (or was it the other one) would toss the coin and the conditions of the call (Heads -- I win; tails -- you loose!) would be given to the other guy while the coin was flipping through the air.

Many years ago, there was an Oped piece in the New York Times that related an insidious example of discrimination in America at work during World War II.   A roadwork gang in Kansas was doing a very commendable day's work and came upon an isolated rural cafe'.   The officer in charge of the German prisoners of war and their guards decided that everyone had earned a break.   The cafe' owner permitted the German prisoners to come in and eat, but refused to let the Negro American guards come inside his establishment.

[When Republicans take their oath for a political office don't they have the option of inserting this additional wording:   "I solemnly swear to uphold the rights of the rich and protect and defend them from the insatiable greedy demands of the loathsome and reprehensible workers, so help me God!"?   What true fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers football team would object to that codicil?]

Would Ayn S. Rand condone the use of World War II as a lever for increasing a capitalists' profit margin?   Are wild bears Catholic?

The expression "Rosie the Riveter" was popularized during the war by a Norman Rockwell painting used as a cove for the May 29, 1943 edition of the Saturday Evening Post magazine and by the "Rosie the Riveter" song performed by the Four Vagabonds.

During World War II, 747 ships were built by the Richmond shipyards.  

The park is seeking stories about life on the home front during WWII, as well as any memorabilia.   Information about the park is available online at:

The shipyards in Richmond launched the Liberty Ship, the SS Robert E. Peary, in 1942.   It was constructed in the record time of 4 days, 15 hours, and 23 minutes.  

Kaiser's industrial miracle was augmented by innovations in housing, medical care for the workers and child care.

Now, are the readers in Manhattan beginning to see how and why they would feel comfortably "at home" in this National Park on the Western side of the USA?  

Visitors to this unique tourist attraction can choose to customize their National Park experience from a list of components to Richmond's checkerboard patterned park map.   They can pick from a list that includes some "do not disturb the occupants" type war era facilities still in use as well as the walk around and take a bunch of picture locations.   They can choose from: the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, the SS Red Oak Victory (example of ships built there), the Whirley Crane (this columnist knows of one former co-worker who is a connoisseur of cranes), the Ford Assembly Plant Building, and Atchison Village (to name some but not all).   A Park Visitors' Center is nearing the time for its dedication ceremony.

PBS did a documentary about the home front during WWII and a book titled "Don't you know there's a war going on?" are suggested resources for any of this column's readers who want more information on the topic.

On October 30, 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt said:   "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."   Construction of Shipyard No. 1, in Richmond, began on January 14, 1941.

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BP graduated from college in the mid sixties (at the bottom of the class?) He told his draft board that Vietnam could be won without his participation. He is still appologizing for that mistake. He received his fist photo lesson from a future (more...)

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