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D-Day's Anniversary is Shining a Light on Rosie the Riveter Heroes

When the 5,000th B-17 bomber rolled out of the Boeing factory after Pearl Harbor, teenage riveter Anna Mae Krier made sure it carried a special message from the women of World War II: she signed her name on it. Now 98, Krier is in Normandy, France, for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, proudly celebrating the vital roles women played in the June 6, 1944, invasion and throughout the war, including making the weaponry that enabled men to fight.

Krier was among millions of women who stepped into defense-industry factories, replacing men who were called up for combat. These women had their own icon in “Rosie the Riveter,” a woman in a polka-dotted bandanna flexing a muscular arm with the slogan: “We can do it!” After Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, “every man, woman, and child just went to work,” Krier recalled as she visited the iconic D-Day battle site, Pegasus Bridge.

Krier, a North Dakota native, was just 17 when she started working as a riveter on B-17 and B-29 bombers in 1943. She helped build more than 6,000 aircraft. “Us women built all that equipment, the airplanes, the tanks, the ammunition, and ships used in the Allied invasion of Normandy that helped liberate Europe from Adolf Hitler’s tyranny,” Krier said. She added, “We weren’t doing it for honors and awards. We were doing it to save our country. And we ended up helping save the world.”

Women also flew the planes they built. The pioneering Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) fulfilled noncombat flight missions, including ferrying planes from factories to the front lines, freeing male pilots for battle. Despite their significant contributions, women defense workers received little notice or appreciation at first. Krier and other former “Rosies” successfully pushed for their contributions to be recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal. “That made me so proud,” she said. “And I’m just so proud of our young women today. We opened doors for them, and it's wonderful to see what they are doing with their lives.”

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