HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — Mary Barkdoll Clever didn’t serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War Two, but she did help build almost 7,000 PT-19 aircraft that were used to train American, Canadian and British pilots in the early days of World War II.
The 103-year-old “Rosie the Riveter” doesn’t believe the United States and its allies could have defeated the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy and Japan without her and almost four million women who took the place of men in shipyards and in armament and aircraft factories like the Fairchild Aviation Corporation in Hagerstown.
Mary Barkdoll was born into a large family. “My mother never lost any of her babies,” said Mary, one of 17 children in her family. “All by the same mother and father.”
“Mary was fifth one born from the top, “said Janet Barkdoll Norris, who was fourth from the bottom of the family ladder. “Mary was everything to us.”
“All of the older sisters like Mary always took care of the younger children like me,” said Kathyrn Barkdoll Nave.
“She was the icon,” said niece Joyce Koblentz. “We knew this famous woman, yet she felt she wasn’t that famous. She was just plain Mary. She felt that her older sisters were prettier than her because the boys were interested in her, but that wasn’t the case. The boys were afraid of her. They saw a strong, educated woman.” A woman who could also handle a firearm.
Mary Barkdoll was the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Her professional career in Hagerstown ranged from kindergarten teacher to transcriptionist, head bookkeeper and a riveter at Fairchild Aviation Corporation.
“Mary was apparently a big deal,” said Daniel Pritchett, pastor of Valley Grace Brethren Church where Mary worshipped. He pointed to an American flag that was flown in her honor at the U.S. Capitol.
At WDVM’s Ross Simpson’s request, the Honorable Jackie Speier — a member of the House of Representatives from California who spearheaded the drive two years ago to get the House and Senate to authorize a Congressional Gold Medal for Rosie the Riveters like Mary Barkdoll Clever — ordered a flag flown in her honor over the west front of the U.S. Capitol.
Speier also wrote a personal note to Nick Mollo, the son of Mary’s only daughter Sharon.
Pastor Pritchett said “Amen” to Speier’s hand-written post-script at the bottom of her letter, “What a Hero She Was!”
“Mary was an American Hero who answered our nation’s call to action during one of the most challenging chapters of history,” Pritchett told his congregation during her funeral service.
It was hard for Mary’s two surviving sisters and her daughter to say goodbye. Mary died about a month shy of her 104th birthday.
Sharon Mollo told Ross at the graveside that when she did something wrong as a child, her mother still stuck up for her. The last image of Mary Barkdoll Clever is a four-second cell phone video of her standing on the front porch of her home in Hagerstown and waving goodbye to her great-granddaughter Heather Jones.