The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, caused the United States to declare war on the Axis powers: Germany, Japan, and Italy. Immediately, a draft of young men was established and many Americans volunteered for the armed services without being drafted. The number of men entering the services depleted the number of men in the workforce. The result was that many jobs previously performed only by men were open to women, and women responded in force.

Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies.

Rosie the Riveter Poster
Jim at 16

 It is not as well known that the shipyards would employ boys that were too young to join the Army. In 1942, when my brother Jim was 15, his brother Nate was about to enter the Army. Jim told his parents that he wanted to go to Chicago and work in the shipyard.

You probably know some 15-year-old boys. How many do you think would be willing to travel hundreds of miles from home by themselves, probably hitch-hiking or jumping a freight train, then apply for a man’s job in heavy construction, working 10 to 12 hours per day. His Mom & Dad were not concerned about his ability to do a man’s job, it was no less than he was already doing on the farm. However, he had not yet finished high school and his parents made schooling a priority. Juby made Jim promise that he would come back home after a year at the shipyard and finish his schooling. Jim was a good student and had finished the tenth grade. At that time high school was only through the eleventh grade, so he had one more year to go.

Thus, the Henderson/Sheffield family contributed two sons to the war effort. And, of course Jake and Buck, then 13 years old, had to share the farm work previously accomplished by Nate and Jim. Jim did work for a year in the Chicago Shipyard and came back home to go to school, but that is a story for another time.

Footnote: The younger generation, and some of the older, may not know what a Riveter is. A “rivet” is a metal pin for passing through holes in two or more metal plates or pieces to hold them together, usually made with a head at one end, the other end being hammered into a head after insertion. And naturally, a “Riveter” is a person who installs rivets and hammers down the open end.

A little family history that you probably did not know.