"Richmond, do something for your country!" the Bay Area radio announcer said. "Go to the Richmond shipyard and be a welder."
That's how Agnes Moore remembers her call to duty after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Rossmoor resident was 21 at the time.
The United States had just entered World War II and needed women on the home front to assume men's roles in the workplace building planes and ships. These women are collectively known today as "Rosie the Riveter."
"I decided right then I was going to do it. I knew it was a very important job and wanted to look my best," recalled Moore, now 90. "I put on my good black suit, white shirt with black, spiked, patent-leather pumps, my hat and gloves andwalked straight into the hiring hall. I said, 'I want to be a welder.' "
The receptionist looked her up and down and suggested an office job might be more suitable. " 'No, I want to be a welder. That's what I want to do,' " she said.
Even though Moore had no clue what a welder's job entailed — including "working with fire" — she knew her country and its servicemen needed her help. The Arkansas native had moved to Monterey County a few years earlier to live with her brother, who had been recruited to play baseball in the Salinas Valley. Moore had a young daughter and was working in a vegetable packing plant when she answered her country's call.
"The whole country was just incensed. We wanted to do anything we
Moore now shares her story with visitors to the Rosie the Riveter WWII / Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond as a docent — with a direct connection to the subject.
"We're all called 'Rosies,' but there are 'Rosie the Riveters,' who put war planes together with rivets, and then there was me, 'Rosie the Welder,' who actually welded the parts of a ship together." The latter, she said, was a much tougher job.
For showing on tours, she bought some of the heavy protective gear female welders wore at the shipyard — thick leather overalls, a jacket and gloves, steel-toed boots, a welder's mask and, of course, a red bandanna usually worn tightly around the neck to protect the welders' skin from sparks that could fly down their work shirts. The clothing, combined with welder's supplies, was quite a load.
"It was hard work — very hard work, and it was dirty. It was not a fun job at all," said Moore, who never felt the male trainers discriminated against her for being a woman. "But I remember the take-home pay was about $85 a week, which was just fabulous. It was a man's salary because we were doing a man's job."
Moore seems to be the go-to woman for all things pertaining to the "Rosies" and World War II. Documentarians have interviewed her several times for television programs and books, and "Rosie the Riveter" park ranger Elizabeth Tucker has suggested Moore as a resource for an orientation film slated to play before Richmond site tours.
"Agnes has been a wonderful docent. She worked in these shipyards for four years and has a lot of hands-on experience to relay to those who are interested. Her stories help people understand what it was like back then during the war," said Tucker, who has worked at the park for seven years. "She's still serving her country 60 years later as a volunteer. It's wonderful and we're lucky to have her."
Moore has put together keepsake albums from her time as "Rosie the Welder" from 1942 until war's end, in 1945. A pin with the iconic picture of a blue-collar woman wearing a red bandanna on her head and flexing her biceps with the motto "We Can Do It," is placed next to her silver work badge displaying a photo of young Moore with her ID "#61892 Richmond Shipyard #2" engraved around it.
But Moore said that when she looks at the iconic image, she doesn't see herself.
"I don't feel like that woman. We didn't celebrate, you know. We were doing a job. Everybody was just doing a job that needed to be done," said Moore, who now spends some of her time driving around the Bay Area in her 2005 silver convertible Porsche visiting family and friends. "I still don't think I was doing anything great. I was just doing a job that needed to be done."
The nonagenarian recalled how, when the war ended, everyone jumped in their cars, rolled down the windows and honked their horns, using all their gas stamps to drive around and celebrate with one another.
Moore's daughter Cheryl Buscaglia, 64, has lived in Orinda for the past 20 years. She is proud of all her mother has done for her family and country, and of what she continues to do close to home.
"My mother gets involved in everything. She's impulsive and fun, and has traveled all over the world. She crochets outfits for newborn babies and donates them to Contra Costa County hospital, and helps out with lots of things here at Rossmoor," said Buscaglia. "I love that she goes and talks to people about her experience as a 'Rosie.' "
People still recognize Moore for her contributions during World War II. A few weeks ago at a veterans hall celebration in Danville, a Pearl Harbor survivor recognized Moore as a Rosie docent by her attire. He shook Moore's hand and said thank you, Moore remembered with tears in her eyes.
"These 'Rosies,' like Agnes, are always saying, 'I didn't do anything. I didn't do much,' " Tucker said. "Yet, they really served at a time when our country needed their service."
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Residence: Walnut Creek
Family: Two daughters (one deceased)
Occupation: A welder in the Richmond shipyard during World War II, she now serves as a docent at the Rosie the Riveter WWII / Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond.