CHICAGO -- As World War II raged overseas, American industry worked tirelessly on the home front. Along the way, the iconic Rosie the Riveter was born. She continues to be a symbol of hard work, feminism and patriotism. 98-year-old Estelle Long, a real-life Rosie, carries on that legacy.
"What I did was... seal rivets (to) a gas tank... to keep it from leaking," recalled the Chatham neighborhood resident of her work on Douglas C-54 cargo planes in a Chicago plant during the 1940s.
Long says she did this for about two years, as commemorated by a certificate from Douglas. Before working there, Long sewed soldiers' shirts and worked in secret on what we now know as radar.
"We didn't tell anybody we worked there... It was just a known fact, during that era everything was hush, hush."
Estelle Long did all of this like countless other women. But for her, things were more challenging.
"Rosie the Riveter was always pictured as a white girl," Long pointed out as a black woman born into segregated America.
She said she was determined to prove stereotypes wrong and show her worth to society by doing the best job she could in everything she took on.
"The only way that you could show at that time you're being equal to whatever was going on at anytime... was to enter whatever was going on," Long added.
She learned those values from her father, a veteran of World War I; then she shared them with her husband, who was an Army sergeant fighting in World War II.
The Longs passed these ideals down to their children and grandchildren, several of whom have also served in the U.S. armed forces.
"You feel the urge and the need to contribute towards your country... We've earned it, we've worked for it... so whether it's voting or whether it's fighting in a war, we're there," said her daughter Carol Long of the family philosophy.
"My parents were a part of that Greatest Generation that built this community we're in... We're determined that that history will not be forgotten," added her son Richard Long.
Estelle Long is still serving all these years later, providing meals to families in need with her son Richard. Plus, she dances (including right after our Monday interview) with the joy and energy of someone decades younger.
If that wasn't impressive enough, she still drives at 98. Her son says she retakes and passes her test every year. All around, she's proving Rosie the Riveter's slogan right: "We can do it." For that inspiration and her service to our country, we thank Estelle Long.
Real-life Rosie the Riveter from Illinois continues serving community
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