'Rosie the Riveters' awarded Congressional Gold Medal years after World War II

The women of World War II were awarded with Congress' highest civilian honor.

'Rosie the Riveters' awarded Congressional Gold Medal years after World War II
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Shutterstock
April 10, 2024, 4:20 PM

The women who became known as "Rosie the Riveters" for their work in helping to lead the United States to victory during World War II were honored Wednesday with a Congressional Gold Medal.

"These are the women who built our bombs," House Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday at the medal ceremony, held at the U.S. Capitol. "These are the invisible warriors on the home front."

"Rosie the Riveter" was the moniker given to women who went to work during World War II, taking on roles historically dominated by men while men were drafted to fight overseas.

Around 5 million civilian women went to work during the war, many helping to build equipment for the war, while around 350,000 American women served in the military, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

PHOTO: Jeanne Gibson (C), a so-called 'Rosie the Riveter,' prepares for a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring her service, along with twenty-seven other Rosies, in the US Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2024.
Jeanne Gibson (C), a so-called 'Rosie the Riveter,' prepares for a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring her service, along with twenty-seven other Rosies, in the US Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2024.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Shutterstock

Decades after their work, the "Rosie the Riveters" were collectively awarded Wednesday with Congress's highest civilian honor.

PHOTO: Sylvia "Delsi" Tanis, 98 years old, an original member of the "Rosies" poses for a portrait prior to a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2024.
Sylvia "Delsi" Tanis, 98 years old, an original member of the "Rosies" poses for a portrait prior to a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the "Rosies" - women such as 'Rosie the Riveter' who held jobs or volunteered in support of the war effort during World War II, in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2024.
Michael McCoy/Reuters

"This recognition is long overdue, but today Congress finally bestows this honor on these deserving patriots," said Republican Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, a cosponsor of The Rosie the Riveter Congressional Gold Medal Act, legislation that was passed in 2020 and led to the women receiving the medal Wednesday.

PHOTO: Twenty-eight so-called 'Rosie the Riveters,' women who entered the US defense workforce during WWII, pose for a group photo ahead of a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring their service in the US Capitol, in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2024.
Twenty-eight so-called 'Rosie the Riveters,' women who entered the US defense workforce during WWII, pose for a group photo ahead of a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring their service in the US Capitol, in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2024.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Shutterstock

One of the dozens of original "Rosie the Riveters" who traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the medal in person was Lucille "Cille" MacDonald, a 98-year-old who lives in Hawaii.

When the war broke out, MacDonald, then a 17-year-old, left her family's farm in South Carolina and hopped on a Greyhound bus to Georgia to help.

MacDonald told ABC News that she was "scared to death" when Japan dropped a bomb on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"That's when I said, 'Do something about it. Just do something about it. Stop worrying and do something about it,'" MacDonald recalled. "So I became very patriotic and very much in love with my country."

MacDonald became a journeyman welder in Brunswick, Georgia.

"I was the best welder in the entire shipyard," she recalled. "I can't forget that. I can't ever forget that. The best, and boy that's saying a lot. And I launched one huge ship a week. In just a week. I mean, imagine. You know how big a ship is? A ship is huge."

PHOTO: Lucille “Cille” MacDonald became a journeyman welder in Brunswick, Georgia, during World War II.
Lucille “Cille” MacDonald became a journeyman welder in Brunswick, Georgia, during World War II.
ABC News

Another woman honored Wednesday was Mae Krier, a Levittown, Pennsylvania, resident who built B-17 and B-29 bombers in Seattle from 1943 to 1945. Years later, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Krier, 94 years old at the time, began making face masks in the same red polka dot fabric worn in the famed "Rosie the Riveter" poster.

She was credited Wednesday for being an "unrelenting advocate" in making sure the women of her generation received their due.

Krier, dressed in a red polka dot vest, accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of all the Rosies, calling it a "great honor."

"Up until 1941, it was a man's world. They didn't know how capable us women were, did they," Krier said to loud applause, later adding that she is most proud of the path she and other women set for future generations.

"We're so proud of the women and young girls who are following in our lead," she said. "I think that's one of the greatest things we left behind is what we've done for women."

PHOTO: This undated stock image shows a "Rosie The Riveter" poster from World War II.
This undated stock image shows a "Rosie The Riveter" poster from World War II.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Krier ended her remarks with the words that came to symbolize the motto of "Rosie the Riveters," saying, "We can do it."

ABC News' Stephanie Wash, Jaclyn Lee, Derick Yanehiro and Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.

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