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Former resident recalls days as ‘Rosie the Riveter’
By Cindy Klepper - Monday, December 12, 2016 8:36 AM
Originally published Dec. 5, 2016.
Paul and Esther Andrews were enjoying newlywed life in their apartment on North LaFontaine Street as 1941 drew to a close.
Paul spent his days working on the Erie Railroad; Esther, unable to find paid work — the country was still climbing out of the Great Depression — ran the household.
Their cozy existence, like that of so may others, was shattered 75 years ago on the evening of Dec. 7.
Word came as they listened to the nightly news on the radio. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was announcing that Pearl Harbor had been attacked earlier that day.
Esther remembers Paul turning to her and saying, “I will be in the Army in six months.”
His prediction came true. By mid-1942, Paul had been inducted into the Army.
But Paul’s life was not the only one that changed.
Esther was on her way to becoming a “Rosie the Riveter,” one of the many women who powered America’s factories and shipyards during World War II.
Esther, who will celebrate her 99th birthday next month, recounted those days in an email interview conducted with the help of her daughters.
Esther — then Esther Born — was living in Columbia City when she met her future husband, who had tagged along with a friend’s boyfriend. Their relationship flourished during outings to the Tri-Lakes dance hall. They were married in Mrach of 1941 and moved to Paul’s hometown of Huntington.
Both just 23, they weren’t too concerned about the tensions in the wider world around them.
But the news they received that night, on Dec. 7, 1941, made them pay attention.
Paul was called up by the Army in July of 1942. He left Huntington 30 days later and, after stopping in Indianapolis for his induction, was sent to Fort Bragg, NC, and then Fort Hood, TX, for a year’s worth of training.
Esther stayed in Huntington, paying for their apartment with some of the $80 Paul was required by the Army to send home out of his $125 monthly paycheck.
And Esther got a job. Paul’s aunt had found her a temporary position with Goodyear, and that job was associated with the war effort. The job ended after three months, and Esther assumes that her three months there was how J.C. Monsey got her name.
Monsey was with The Hosdreg Company, a Huntington company that had gone through a couple of incarnations — making wooden toys, supplying giant eggs — before landing a government contract to make 20-millimeter shells.
Monsey offered her a job, and Esther worked at Hosdreg as a Navy inspector from 1942 until the war ended in 1945.
The Hosdreg Company was located off East State Street on what was then known as Lucretia Street. The little street is now known as Erie Street, and runs between Life Church and a Pulley-Kellam facility that, during World War II, was home to Hosdreg and its 300 employees.
Esther inspected the shells made at Hosdreg before they were sent to Indianapolis to be filled with gunpowder. Ultimately, the shells would be fed through anti-aircraft guns at a rate of 400 a minute.
The raw material came in as long bundles of steel tubes, each about as big around as a thumb, Esther remembers. The tubes were cut to about two or three inches in length. A groove was machined into each tube, and each tube was then wrapped with a gold band. When that was completed, the tubes were bundled together to be shipped out.
Esther’s job was to inspect the gold band for burrs; when a burr was found, the tube would be sent back to be repolished.
She remembers thinking about the final destination of the shells she was inspecting. The women would wonder about the “poor people” the shells were going to kill, she says, but then they would think about the Americans those people were killing.
Three women worked on each shift, reporting from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. one week, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. the next week and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the third week.
Esther was the only one of the three who had a car and was rationed just enough gas to drive the three to and from work each week. Gasoline wasn’t the only thing in short supply; Esther remembers that sugar and coffee were also hard to get.
Sometimes on Saturdays, some of the girls would get together to play cards; occasionally, they’d take a train to Chicago, leaving at 5:30 in the morning and getting back at 10:30 at night. They’d eat at fancy places in Chicago and, on the rare occasions when there was a little extra money, they’d go to a show. During the early war years, they listened to big bands, but the bands broke up as the musicians went to war.
There were very few men left in Huntington, too, she says.
Esther visited Paul several times before he left San Francisco in 1943 on his way to the South Pacific. She wasn’t quite sure where he was, but remembers getting a grass skirt in the mail when he was in Fiji.
Esther wrote her husband a letter every day, but not all of her letters got to him, she says. Sometimes he’d get six or seven letters at once.
The mail apparently wasn’t a priority. Once, when Paul asked for candy, she sent a box of sweets she’d gotten from the Phyleen Candy Co., in Huntington. It apparently sat in a hot boat for weeks and was full of worms when the soldiers started to eat it. Rumor has it, she says, that the men picked out the worms and ate it anyway.
Another time, she sent him a roll of salami which local grocer Nelson Bechstein had dipped in paraffin as a preservative. While the salami was fine when it arrived, the crackers she’d sent with it weren’t fit to eat, she says.
Esther kept her apartment for the first year, then moved in with her mother-in-law, Irene Andrews. Esther’s sister-in-law and her husband were also living there.
Paul returned home on Nov. 3, 1945 — his footlocker arrived a year later — and the couple moved in with his mother, where Esther had been living.
Paul went to work at Northside Sinclair, at West Park Drive and Warren Street, then moved to Northside Texaco, on north Jefferson Street, where he worked until his retirement in 1983.
Esther didn’t hold a paying job again until the mid-1960s, when her oldest daughter went off to college. Esther’s income helped pay college tuition.
Paul and Esther remained married until his death in 2003. They are the parents of four daughters, Martha Andrews Poole, of Glastonbury, CT; Emily Andrews-Carrico, of Bloomington; Susan Andrews Cowan, of Steamboat Springs, CO; and Elizabeth Andrews Scheer, of Franklin.
Esther lived in Huntington until about three years ago, when she moved to Franklin.