RICHMOND -- Phyllis Gould, 92, is as determined today as she was 71 years ago. Her persistence during World War II earned her a job as one of the first six women to break union barriers and be hired as welders at the Kaiser shipyards in 1942.
That same determination has landed her and four other Rosie the Riveters an invitation to be recognized for their contributions by Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.
The invitation, which came in a personal phone call from Biden to Gould on Oct. 22, was the result of a White House letter-writing campaign by Gould that started more than 12 years ago, when Bill Clinton was in the Oval Office.
"I'm a letter-writer," Gould said. "I saw that they invited all these sports figures and various people all the time who showed up at the White House, and I thought, 'Nobody's paid attention to us.' We're dying off fast."
"She said 'They've had football players and NASCAR drivers, but we're cuter,'" recalled Elizabeth Tucker, a ranger at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.
Even someone as determined as Gould has a limit.
"I wrote a lot of 'em and didn't get a response to any of them," she said. "I told (my sister) this was the last one I was going to write."
Then the phone calls came, first from a representative of Biden and the next day from the vice president himself.
Gould said her reaction was "pretty much shock. It still seems like a bit of a fairy tale."
The call lasted about 15 minutes. "He's a talker," Gould said. "If I had something to say, I'd just butt in. I said I wanted a big Biden hug, and he said he wanted one back."
The invitation was extended to Fairfax resident Gould and her sister Marian Sousa, 87, of El Sobrante; along with Marian Wynn, 87, of Fairfield; Kay Morrison, 90, of Fairfield; and Priscilla Elder, 93, of Pinole.
Sousa, Wynn, Morrison and Elder are a popular attraction each Friday at the Rosie the Riveter visitors center in Richmond. Gould is not a regular at the center but keeps busy swimming three times a week and volunteering at a Marin County food pantry.
The five plan to make the trip in April and hope a benefactor will step forward to make the visit possible. The Rosies realize they can't wait too long. "We're all on borrowed time," said Morrison, who added that "it's been one of my life's ambitions" to visit the nation's capitol.
"What we need is a corporate sponsor who would fly us there and put us up," Gould said.
Gould's memories are still vivid more than 70 years after she and the other women welders first entered the shipyards accompanied by a chaperon. So were the life lessons she learned there.
"I had to wait till they had a group of us hired," she said. "We had chaperones for a short while because they didn't know what would happen" as women came to work in a formerly all-male job.
"The chaperon herded us around and kept an eye on us," Gould said. "We were freaks in their territory."
It was a hard, dirty, smelly and dangerous place to work, she recalled, but the married mother stayed on the job in a male-dominated environment for three years, until V-J Day signaled the end of the war in August 1945.
By then, Gould was a U.S. Navy-certified welder, the top classification conferred. Just as important, "I had every confidence I was just as good as the men they were hiring at the time," she said. "The main thing that came out of it was that I felt like I could do anything if I set my mind to it."
At the time, "People didn't think what we did was important because everybody was doing something," Gould said. "There are so many women even now that worked in defense but have never been documented."
The Rosies know their visit and recognition will be for all the unheralded women who stepped forward for their country all those years ago.
"That's what I want this trip to be: A real grand slam for all of us," Gould said.
The National Park Service and its local unit are not allowed to solicit funds for the trip. Potential sponsors can contact Gould at 415-456-0859.
The National Park Service and its local unit are not allowed to solicit funds for the trip to Washington, D.C., by the five Rosies. Potential sponsors can contact Phyllis Gould at 415-456-0859.