With Veterans Day ceremonies scheduled all around our region, the one in New York City will include a focus on women — Rosie the Riveter to be exact. Anyone who visited the Dutchess County Fair this summer may have noticed two sculptures that highlight the Spirit of ’45, including Rosie.
Cole Kleitsch is the man who accompanies and promotes the works of art and tries to get the word out about a time in history and its relevance today.
“I work with an outfit called ‘Spirit of ’45,’ and we’re trying very hard to re-instill that spirit of unity and the victory we shared 72 years ago, and to try and remind today’s generation that that kind of togetherness is available anytime, that Spirit of ’45,” Kleitsch says. “Well, it’s a big job, so the weird way that it’s very effective is Seward Johnson, of the Johnson Atelier, lets me borrow, literally, this beautiful ‘Embracing Peace’ sculpture of that amazing moment on August 14, 1945, when a sailor and a nurse shared in that moment of victory. And the added plus for us this year that we’re so excited about, he’s also lent us his brand new, ‘Can Do, Rosie the Riveter’ sculpture.”
Kleitsch carts around the sculptures in a u-Haul, and it was the first time the Dutchess County Fair had sculptures on display. Kleitsch, a civics teacher who performs research at the FDR site in Hyde Park, runs the World War II section of the New York City Veterans Day parade.
“And in past years, we will have, as we have, the ‘Embracing Peace,’ but, again, this year, Rosie’s going to be the center of our efforts for this Veterans Day in New York City to remind the nation once again as the women saved us before, as perhaps they’ll be willing to lead us once again and remind us that, of course, we can do it. What were we thinking?” says Kleitsch.
Kleitsch talks about one of the real-life Rosies, as they’re called.
“She built B-17s and B-29s. And she’s a wonderful young lady of a certain age but, she’s diminutive, so she would actually be inside the wing of these bombers while the riveter, a female, on the outside would rivet from above because a riveter, as the backers are called, because we weren’t riveters, we’re backers, I don’t know that we know that distinction, but you have to have somebody on the other side of a rivet,” Kleitsch says. “So she would be inside the wing of these planes, moving in the dark from point to point thousands of time to build these fantastic machines that saved us.”
He’s talking about 91-year-old Mae Krier, who resides near Philadelphia. She’ll march in New York City’s Veterans Day Parade Saturday, with 160 Girl Scouts dressed as Rosies and 150 Boy Scouts, in the Spirit of ‘45 section.
“In the case of the Rosies, they took over building the arsenal of democracy that saved the world. Well, that counts for something. And I know a lot of veterans that would agree with this — you can’t be in a bomber that doesn’t exist,” Kleitsch says. “Those young men that flew those missions over Europe and all over the place, the Navy and the Air Force, those weapons were created by women. And without them, we would not have made it. And, oh boy, are we due for a thank you.”
It’s the kind of spirit Navy veteran Ernie Davis hopes will not be forgotten. He pulled out a photo from his wallet.
“That’s them in ’53. My brother and I was home for Christmas, and we had my brothers and father put the uniforms on, got them all together,” says Davis. “He was in both wars, my father, my brothers in the second World War, Vietnam and Korea, got trapped, and myself, in Korea.”
Davis, from Kingston, hung out by the “Embracing Peace” sculpture at the fair, heartened by the recognition.
“The country is today, people don’t realize what has happened in the past and why they have their freedom today,” says Davis. “There’s too much racism all through the country and I think people always should join together and respect each other and love each other and just know that especially servicemen that’s going through the wars and all these years they’ve done it so that they could be free and do what they want to do today.”
Some communities in the Hudson Valley held Veterans Day ceremonies last weekend. Others have events scheduled for this weekend.