The Rosie the Riveter Movement

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Belgium Thans American "Rosies"

Sherpherdstown West Virginia

November 7, 2009

By Lt. Colonel Martine Diercx, sent by the Belgian Embassy, Washington

“Belgium Thanks American Rosie the Riveters”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the most binding ties between Belgium and the United States was woven by history sixty-five years ago: in Belgium it is known as the Campaign for the Ardennes; in the United States you know it as the Battle of the Bulge –one of the deadliest battles of World War II.

I arrived in Washington in 2007, and in the last two years, I have had the privilege of speaking on many occasions with veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. It is always interesting to me to hear their stories, to listen to them recount their experiences in my country. When I tell them that Belgium will never forget their courage and their sacrifice, I mean it from the heart.

Today is my first opportunity to speak with Rosies. Ladies, I look forward to shaking hands with each of you and to hearing your individual stories.

I want to thank Anne Montague. In her dedication to gather the stories of West Virginia’s Rosies, she shows us what role citizens can play in activating memory, in preserving the heritage of the past to guide the future

I mentioned that I have met a number of veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Their contribution to the lasting peace achieved in Europe has rightfully been memorialized both in the United States and in Europe.

Did you know that in Belgium, there is a tradition of honoring American graves on Memorial Day? More than 14,000 American soldiers are buried in three U.S. military cemeteries in Belgium, which are kept in pristine condition. Schools “adopt” graves. They research the background of the soldier, place flowers on the grave and meet with next of kin.

These traditions are important and I hope that they continue forever. We need to remember those who fought and those who died. But there are others who should be remembered also. As the years pass and as we gain perspective on World War II through the research, books, films, and stories that have come out, we all realize more and more that “The Greatest Generation” isn’t only about soldiers. Nor is it only about men.

Slowly, but surely, stories about the crucial role played by women during World War II are emerging.

I was born after the war, and my generation is used to speed in communication. We can send a message on our cell phones and we can let people across the world know of an experience we are having before it is even over. I know from personal experience, however, that it has not always been so easy to tell and share stories.

My parents survived World War I and World War II, but basically refused to talk about the war with their children. My father was a prisoner-of-war and my mother, who lived on a farm, had to replace the men who had been deported and imprisoned. My parents never provided the details to me. Some of their stories are just too painful to share.

There is, of course, not an exact parallel between the American and the Belgian war experience. Belgium, as you know, was occupied for almost all of World War II.

In Belgium, as in the United States, many women – like my mother—must have been expected to do work that would ordinarily have been done by men.

When preparing these remarks, I asked a colleague in Belgium what tributes have been paid to honor Belgian women who worked on the home front from 1939 to 1945. I still haven’t received an answer. I fear that the answer will probably be “none.” I did learn, however, that about a year ago, a Belgian scholar at a university in Belgium began a study on the 30,000 Belgian women who were deported to Germany to work for the enemy’s war machine. The realization that these women have stories that should be told and that should be kept as part of our history has come late, but hopefully not too late.

These stories are important and,

Rosies, . . . your stories are important.

My career as a woman in the military has afforded me a special perspective on what you have accomplished. I am one of nine children. Growing up, the career options that seemed to be open to me were to become a housewife, or a nurse, or a teacher. That’s what my sisters chose. My brothers chose the military, which was a source of great pride to my family. I wanted to share in that pride, I also wanted to do what the boys did and so I too joined the military.

This experience of moving beyond society’s expectations is something that I feel I share with the Rosies. In a way, the Rosies made this possible for my generation. They showed the world that they could not only do men’s work, they could do it well. In their response to the call of their country, they also provided a lesson of strength and courage. Some Rosies were called upon to learn new skills –in mechanics, or engineering or aviation, – as training for their jobs. You did jobs that were not traditional for women. As a woman, I appreciate how your work changed forever the perception of what women are capable of.

As a member of military, I understand and appreciate the need for quality materiel. I know the level of precision that is involved in the defense industry. What you produced was vital to the Allied cause.

Belgium was certainly one of the countries that benefited from your efforts.

And that is why I am so honored to be with you today. It is truly a privilege to be one of the first Belgians to say, “Thank You” to the Rosies.

Rosies, as you reflect on the many achievements of your lives, I hope you take pride in what you accomplished for the War effort and I hope that you realize that you were also among the founders of freedom and democracy in Europe. Your work clearly had an international dimension and Belgium is very proud to add its voice to those who have expressed gratitude to you.

Thank you very much.

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