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Remembering a woman who left footprints [Senior Circles]

For me, May is a month of remembering — my mother who died this month 37 years ago; the Rosie the Riveters on National Rosie the Riveter Day, May 25; my good friend and mentor who died in 2003 whose birthday is this month; and all those who gave their lives for our freedom in all the wars our country has fought, from the Revolutionary War to the current war in Afghanistan.

I again want to bring attention to the Rosies, the women who stepped up to support our country during World War II. They were teenagers, young adults to senior citizens and all ages in between. They were your grandmother, mother, aunt and sister. They came together, united in purpose, to help win the war.

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It is phenomenal when you realize how productive these women were during the war years. While taking care of children and worrying about loved ones overseas, the Rosies built 80,000 landing craft, 100,000 tanks, 300,000 aircraft, 15,000,000 guns and 41,000,000,000 rounds of ammunition.

When checking out the Rosie the Riveter Facebook page, facebook.com/pages/American-Rosie-the-Riveter-Association/196023717081566, I was quite surprised to learn that movie star Marilyn Monroe was a Rosie the Riveter, according to a July 25, 2013, article in the Huffington Post. Around 1944, then-Norma Jean Dougherty worked in a factory in Van Nuys, Calif. She mainly sprayed airplanes with fire retardant, but in photos taken by Army photographer David Conover, she is assembling a drone, the OQ-2 radioplane, the first mass-produced unmanned aerial vehicle in the world.

One of many interesting stories on the American Rosie the Riveter Association's website, rosietheriveter.net, is that of Betty Lou, from Decatur, Ga. "The telegram from the War department instructed me to report to Arlington Hall, Virginia, on September 1, 1943 at 0800 hours. I kissed my teaching job good-bye and packed my bags. Arlington Hall had been a small college just outside Washington, D.C., which during World War II was converted into a Signal Corps Army Post. I was assigned to the unit that was attempting to break the Japanese code and became a cryptographic specialist."

As an NSA retiree, this story hit home with me. It was at Arlington Hall where many of the women who would later work at the National Security Agency started their careers. One of those women was Barbara Clark  (1922-2003), my good friend and mentor. Her story is worth telling.

Barbara's mother, an organist, introduced music to her and Barbara played piano, violin and cello at a young age. A child of the Depression, she remembered going from a riches-to-rags existence. At age 7 and a half, she was working in a bakery where she got a hot meal and could take baked goods home to her family.

A few days before she graduated from high school, her parents separated and later divorced. Barbara didn't have the option to continue her education. She went to work for what she called the "slave factory," the telephone company. This job paid the most money, $78 a week. She learned a lot from the women she worked with there. She became steward of the local company-owned union of 400 women. Her days at the phone company were numbered after proposing that the workers "pull the plugs" at midnight if they didn't get the money they wanted. They got what they wanted but Barbara was frozen from getting a job for 90 days. She went to Chicago and conned the editor of a daily newspaper into hiring her for one month free to prove she could do the job, even though she didn't have experience as a journalist.

Her fiancé Bill Clark was overseas; she wanted to do her part in the war effort, so she talked to local recruiters. She went to school in Denver, where four years of medicine were packed into four months' training. She graduated from the course as a medic in the Army; only 25 percent of the class graduated. Stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Ark., she worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week in surgery, attending to POWs and wounded Americans. Spending time with children at a nearby orphanage helped her to get her mind off the blood and death.

When Barbara and Bill got married, she could not remain in the Army. They moved to New York, where Bill went to college. They had a son. It was a "hungry time" for them, and after two semesters, they returned to the midwest to recoup and save money for the rest of Bill's college. They eventually moved to Maryland, where Bill finished his degree at the University of Maryland and Barbara started work in 1951 at Arlington Hall with the organization that later became the NSA.

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Barbara's philosophy on life stemmed from a time when she was very young, walking on the snow with her father. She was trying to understand the concept of infinity and he explained it by using the footprints in the snow. Barbara never forgot that and made every day count. She was still working at NSA when she died.

Barbara was a sage counsel, an assertive voice for working women and men, a risk taker, a team player and a very special friend to many, many men and women. She went out of her way to do anything she could to help others.

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same." — Flavia Weedn.

Barbara Clark was one of those people who left footprints on our hearts.

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