Rosie the Riveter - the Home Front during World War II (Julia Helen Keto)
Julia Helen Keto
Sperry Gyroscope, New York and Ballistics Research Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD
Helen’s husband Jorma is the off camera voice.
I was Julia Helen Wickholm and I got married while I was working at Sperry Gyroscope and became Julia Helen Keto.
What was your first job?
I had different temporary jobs, office, typing, and a press clipping bureau. All of those temporary jobs that you just can't really remember.
Where did you work during the war?
I worked at Sperry Gyroscope Company in Brooklyn, New York. It was at Bush Terminal. They had plants in different places but I worked in Bush Terminal. At that time they made bomb sights. There were two other companies that made bomb sights too, but I can't remember their names, but I worked for the Sperry Gyroscope company that made bomb sights. The, it's not the pilot, who ever it is, the bombardier, they have to get the cross hairs
Jorma: …where the bombs goes, the pilot is in full control of the bomber, and the bomber has to go straight, and drop his bombs, and he gets a sight on the target...
What kind of training did you get?
Helen: Well I did go to the Delehanty Institute. That's where I learned about assembly of tools, assembly of small instruments and things like that. It was for a little less than a year, I think. It didn't have to be too hard to learn.
Tell us about the Miss Victory competition
I was one of the candidates for Miss Victory when I worked for Sperry in Brooklyn. That was a lot of fun. You got to go to different luncheons and meetings.
Was it a beauty pageant?
No, no. Not a beauty pageant.
Jorma: Miss Victory was for the war workers, the equivalent of Rosie the Riveter. All different industries.
Helen: My boss, the one who was head of our shop, he had to pick. I guess there were about 50 of us in that area. They weren't all girls, there were men too, but as far as Miss Victory they wanted to have a woman. I was just the one from that shop and then all different places around Brooklyn, Long Island and Jersey, they picked, the bosses, head of their departments.
What did you have to wear to work?
One of the pictures I have out there with the cap on so that if the drill press did get too close, you know, it wouldn't put a hole in my head. One girl there, when I was there, she got her head caught in the drill press. All we did was hear her scream. It probably took her scalp off, it gets pulled in. You had to be very careful about the machines that grab at your hair or any parts that would be hanging out, like sleeves. You couldn't wear long sleeves, and you couldn't wear long hair.
What was it like to be part of Sperry?
I liked it because they had a chorus, those of us who were selected to be in the choral society. There were quite a few people in it so you didn't have to have a famous voice or anything, just like to sing and like to be around people who liked music.
Where else did you work during the war?
Then I worked at the Ballistics Research Laboratory in Aberdeen Maryland, at the Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland. That was interesting because they had collected, what do you call them, bombed out instruments, German artillery and different things from overseas and they took them to our laboratory. We had to try to piece them together and try to duplicate the weapons they made over there. I remember working on a camera, a very intricate camera, but I didn't do the intricate part, I did the simple part. The one I worked with was originally from Germany, and he knew all about assembling instruments.
Isn't that funny how you can't remember… Boy, it doesn't pay to be 83 I tell you.
Was this just a job or was it for the war effort?
I think everybody I knew worked in some form of the war effort. I think everyone I knew in some way was connected with the war.
Did either of your plants have Unions?
In Sperry they wanted to have unions, because there was the AFL and the CIO. And I was campaigning for the AFL. So some of the other people who were interested ... what was it they used to sing a song, "Don't let Julia fool you, join the CIO." That's what they sang, yes, "Don't let Julia fool you, join the CIO." And I was for the AFL. I didn't sing anything. I was so surprised that they made up a song like that- “Don't let Julia fool you,” I wish I had been quick witted and thought about something to sing at them. That's right, it was quite a time about the Unions, yer...
What happened to your wedding dress?
My people are from Finland and suffered a lot during the war, so my cousin wrote and asked…
Jorma: Was it your cousin or my cousin?
Helen: I guess it was your cousin, I get mixed up with our cousins.
Jorma: Finland was attacked by our allies and by Germany. They were caught in a squeeze during the war. England declared Finland an enemy of the allies.
Helen: So I mailed them my wedding dress, because I wasn't going to be using it again anyway. I didn't expect to use it. I think a lot of people sent clothing, money and everything else they could to those war-torn countries. She sent me a nice picture of her in the dress. I appreciated that.
What did your war experience teach you?
To be a pacifist.
Jorma also worked at the Ballistics Research Laboratory.
Washington County Free Library
Keto, Julia Helen 1920-2007, Sperry Gyroscope, Ballistics Research Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Western Maryland, 2004