BRAINTREE - After 70 years, Mary Kennedy still remembers the unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable routine of suiting up to work as a wartime welder at Quincy’s Fore River shipyard.
She also recalls the thrill of wielding her welding torch to seal the steel plates that formed the battleships, cruisers and an aircraft carrier the Quincy yard launched.
For four years the Dorchester native was a real-life “Rosie the Riveter,” the nickname that female defense plant workers were given at the beginning of World War II.
“We really were called that,” she said. “It was special.”
Now a Braintree nursing home resident, she was one of three million American women who worked in those plants from 1942 to 1945. At Fore River, she was among 2,000 who the Bethlehem Steel Corp. hired to take the place of men who had enlisted or been drafted into the military.
With the help of her younger sister, Bertha Glavin of Quincy, correct, not Galvin Kennedy is sharing her story with the American Rosie the Riveter Association, an Alabama- based group that now has 4,500 members.
Kennedy is 91, and the association says it wants to contact as many “Rosies” like her and Glavin as they can while they’re still alive.
Glavin, who’s 87, left high school at 16 to be the payroll clerk at a South Boston company that stitched raincoats for the Navy.
Kennedy – then Mary Pascucci – said she never imagined that she’d be hired as a shipyard welder. Women in the Depression era didn’t take jobs like that. Then Japan bombed the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 1941, and the plants needed women.
One day in early 1942, she and her friend Violet O’Donnell took the train to Quincy and were hired on the spot to be welders. They were 19.
“We heard about it, and so we went,” Kennedy said. “Our parents didn’t know what to think. But it was a good job during the war, and good money.”
After a brief training period, she joined men and women on the production line as a “Winnie the Welder” – first as a “tack welder” who secured plate rivets, then as a production welder who sealed the seams between plates with molten steel. She was paid $50 a week as a tack welder, and about $90 a week as a seam welder.
It was hazardous work, with sparks flying and white-hot torches burning. She and her fellow Rosies were dressed for it: They wore gloves, heavy boots, thick overalls, goggles and heavy metal helmets.
Kennedy said she often had to dodge tiny bits of molten steel.
“You had to be careful,” she said, but she was never injured. She worked the 7 a.m.-to-3 p.m. shift, and sometimes extra shifts.
At home, she joined her parents and sister to write letters to their brothers and other neighborhood boys who were in the Army and Navy in the South Pacific and Europe.
Kennedy married soon after the war ended, and stayed home with six daughters and a son. Glavin took other bookkeeping jobs and also worked at a White Tower hamburger shop in Boston before she married in 1949 and was a homemaker for five boys and two girls.
Kennedy still recalls the pomp of Fore River ship christenings, but both women say they most remember feeling pleased to be a part of the war effort.
“We were building ships for the soldiers,” Kennedy said.