By BRETT DUNLAP
PARKERSBURG - During World War II, Opal Moore was one of many women who entered the work force to do many of the jobs essential to America's war effort.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Opal Moore of Parkersburg was one of the thousands of “Rosie the Riveters” who went to work in manufacturing plants during World War II. Moore worked at the Ames plant in Parkersburg as a welder where flares were made for the U.S. Navy.
The Parkersburg resident reminisced about her time as one of many women nationwide nicknamed "Rosie the Riveter" for the work they did in factories on the home front.
A number of groups have been working to collect the stories of these women to preserve the memory of what they have done.
"Thanks! Plain and Simple" is a veterans group in West Virginia that has been working to collect the stories of "Rosies" from around the state.
Moore, 87, worked as a welder helping to make flares for the U.S. Navy at the Ames shovel plant in Parkersburg in the 1940s. Having been born in Wirt County, Moore, the former Opal Wright, came to Parkersburg to find work.
''I wanted to do something because many of my friends were going away,'' she said.
''Boys I went to school with were going off to war.''
An office had been set up in Parkersburg to help people find work for the emerging war industries.
Moore was sent by them to a trade school in Virginia where she learned to weld.
She came back, went in the Ames plant and showed what she could do.
During that first tryout, her shirt sleeve caught on fire.
''It was no big deal,'' Moore said.
''I had the gloves on anyway and (without overreacting) just put it out.
''I think that is what got me the job. They knew I wasn't afraid of that thing.''
The area where she first had to work in Plant No. 1 were enclosures made of a heavy tent-like material.
Her job consisted of welding the middle section in a three-piece assembly. She had no idea how many of those she worked on in a day.
''They were timed, but I just wanted to be sure that I had a good weld,'' Moore said.
Due to the bright light from the welder's flame, they regularly had to wear a welder's mask over their faces to protect their eyes.
Although she proved she wasn't afraid of getting burned by the welder she still had to be careful around the work site.
''Glancing at flashes of light from the other welders gave me burned eyes,'' she said, adding she didn't suffer any permanent damage.
''Remember, you have to keep your shield over your face.''
Before she left the plant, she wanted one of those welder's masks to show her own children some day what she did during the war but never got the chance to get one.
Eventually, she and her co-workers were moved to Plant No. 2 where they had more work space.
Once, a couple of people came in to their area and watched them work.
Moore wasn't sure who they were, but thought they might have been someone acting in some official capacity, monitoring the work being done at the plant.
''One of them said to the other after looking at my welding, 'It looks like she is stirring apple butter,''' Moore said with a laugh.
It struck her funny because she wasn't sure how he made that particular connection to the work she was doing.
She usually worked the day shift, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., but there were times when she was asked to work over four hours or so.
She believes she made around 69 cents an hour.
''It wasn't an unhappy place,'' Moore said of the plant and its people. ''It was a friendly place. The spirit throughout the plant was that we were all working together for the war effort.''
Moore made friends with a lot of her co-workers.
''The breaks were good for the smokers,'' she said.
''I think we had one break for every eight-hour day.
''I thought about taking up smoking so I would feel like one of the group. I didn't.''
Coming to work, they had to wear a specialized button with their picture on it to show they belonged at the plant, much like people wear ID badges nowadays.
Moore said there were times her friends decorated the buttons with clown faces to see if the guards would notice, which they did sometimes.
Moore worked at the plant for three years.
As the war was coming to an end and many of the men were returning home, she eventually left the plant.
She later married Louis Moore, who lived across the street from the house she rented with her family. The couple had five children.
She stayed in contact with many of the friends she made at the plant over the years for a while.
Although her family is the most important thing in her life, Moore looks back at her time at the Ames plant with a certain fondness.
At the time, the Axis powers were a formidable enemy and people were not sure if the war was going to make it to the American shores.
There was a feeling that everyone was in it together ... from the soldiers on the battlefields to those working back home in the factories, each doing their part to ensure victory.
''I didn't mind getting up and going to work at all,'' Moore said. ''For me, it was a good time. I felt good that I was able to help out.
''It was the best time of my life because I thought I was really doing something important.''