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Rosie Legend Lives On
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Mary Torres, left, standing in front of the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter along with Cristina Portillo, who put the design in all of the windows of her smog shops to honor the women that stayed behind to hold down the fort while the men were off protecting the country. Photo Contributed

Driving along Patterson Road you may have noticed a line of American flags marking the driveway into Freedom Smog and Oil Change along with a new window design that is of the iconic Rosie the Riveter from the World War II era. If you have been to Freedom Smog this new design is no surprise as owner Cristina Portillo is very patriotic and decorates all her shops with military memorabilia from all branches, including many items that have been donated by veterans.

The window design was gifted to Portillo by a customer that explained to her that she, Portillo herself, was a reflection of Rosie. She was very modest about displaying this window design at her shops because she didn’t want to offend her employees, nor the veterans, or anyone.

The decision was not easy but once she realized the conversation that could be shared and the true meaning of the iconic Rosie the Riveter was a remembrance that in World War II, women entered a male-dominated workforce after the men enlisted in the armed forces to fight in the war. Back then this was the way of women helping in the war effort here at home working in the industrial labor force between 1940 and 1945. This image of “Rosie the Riveter” became one of the most iconic images of working women during the war.

Finally, a few months ago Portillo decided to put the design in all the windows at each of her smog shops to honor the women that stayed behind then and those that do so today, continuing the daily responsibilities while their men pursue a military career to defend our country.

“When we offer our free smog it is always the mom or the wife coming in to do the smog inspection because their family member is away or busy,” stated Portillo. “So I thought I have to honor them. I thought that image is for the Rosie’s. So when I put that text on there that says this is for all the Rosie’s in America, it made more sense.”

The text listed on the window design is as follows: “So little is ever said about the wife who stays behind while her man goes to war. This elite group of women hold the fort down back home so their man can do the job of protecting Lady Liberty. They too have paid a great price for our freedom.”

Since she put the design up, Portillo was introduced to a true life “Rosie” who worked in different positions for the war effort in World War II named Mary Torres. At 93 years of age, Torres is still very active and recently spoke at the “Not Forgotten” Memorial Day Celebration in Manteca where she met Portillo and heard about the window design.

“All my life I have been a Rosie the Riveter and didn’t know it,” said Torres. “I had worked in the shipyards and we were welders.”

Today, Torres still works as a hair stylist in a beauty shop and makes home visits for the elderly women that can’t make it to the salon. She still drives but only close to home and routinely makes appearances as a “Rosie” and shares her stories with others.

Torres graduated and the war had started so she wanted to do something to help this country win the war. Her dad was very strict and did not approve of girls doing a man’s job. So she saw an article in the paper that guaranteed a job and housing in California. Growing up in the small town of Donora, Pennsylvania, California was a long way from home.

“So I used my graduation money, bought a one way ticket to California on a Sunday morning,” added Torres. “I left my folks a note and said I am sorry but I am leaving home; you made me do this and I am going to get a war time job and I will write to you in six months and tell you where I am.”

Five days later, Torres arrived by bus in Sacramento where she was employed at McClellan Air Force Base for a few months and then made her way to Oakland to work at the shipyards where they needed welders.

“From then on the rest is history,” said Torres. “That was the start of Rosie the Riveter.

“I got to be one of the top welders and after a few years I married my boss.”

At the Memorial Day celebration in Manteca, Torres and Portillo were invited to a Warriors game at Oracle Arena by Phil Waterford of Manteca Ford who hosts the event and, according to Portillo, is a day they will never forget.

“Being able to meet Rosie, it really is a huge deal,” expressed Portillo. “We are in a generation that doesn’t truly understand the sacrifice that has been made for our country and the sacrifice that is still happening today. This is a great country still and there is hope for our country still because we have a lot of brave people like Mary that have opened the doors. There is no better country to live in than America.”

Portillo said sharing the story of a real-life Rosie helps to drive home the point that their sacrifices do not go unnoticed.

“Our freedom needs to not be forgotten and appreciated now more than ever,” Portillo said.