May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

I started to do the usual and post pics of my father and my husband over on Facebook for this Memorial Day but, in keeping with my year of exploring the mother with whom I had only the barest of relationships, I thought I would talk about her role in the war.

Ruth Walborg Johnson Kirchner was born of Swedish/ Finish immigrant parents in 1911.  She was the first in her family to go to college and graduated from Montclair College in 1933 with a degree in teaching and a major in math, right at the height of the depression.  Both of her parents were hard working.  Her father was a shipbuilder and her mother a domestic and seamstress.  She had a role model, for good or ill, in her mother.

After graduation Ruth worked several jobs at once because full-time employment was almost impossible to find.  She worked simultaneously as a high school math teacher, a math tutor, a violin teacher and taught engineering drafting in night school while she learned the subject on alternate evenings through a college course in Newark.

When the war came she was prime fodder for the military industrial complex.  She was hired on by Calco, a branch of American Cyanamid, as an engineer draftsman and later promoted to engineering supervisor.  She received a Navy commendation for her work on the Navy Flame Thrower...a story worthy of it's own post some day.  She also received a commendation for working on a project on which she had no idea she was involved, The Manhattan Project.

In 1945, as the men came home from the war, she was laid off and made redundant as her job world now be filled by a man.  In 1946 she birthed me and promptly returned to work. As a secretary.  She spent the balance of her life as a working mother, shamed by the women on her block because she left her daughter home to go to work.  She was never again recognized for her work during the war nor did she ever again work as an engineer.
While the soldiers returning from the war deserved to come home to jobs, the woman who held those jobs down on the home front did not deserve the summary dismissal they were given.  She was embittered by this experience.
I wish the America I love so much would see that war, and the disruption of lives that it causes, is unacceptable in a country that espouses prosperity and well-being.  Oh, I know, we are the keeper of peace in the world but the loss of lives of the young men and women who go out to fight and the destruction of lives on the home front makes war an unsupportable situation.
I support the troops and their support systems and I want those troops home where they belong!

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