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 Are we destined to do great things? By R.A. Mathews

By R.A. Mathews (letters@ramathews.com)

Red, white, and blue. That’s what courses through my veins. 

So, for the patriotic holidays — Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veterans’ Day, Pearl Harbor — I search in earnest for our senior soldiers, WWII veterans. We’re free only because of those willing to die for freedom.

And it’s always a joy to listen to these amazing men with their wonderful stories. 

I started my quest about five years ago when such veterans were in their mid-nineties. Now they’re closer to 100 — leaving us fast. One I interviewed most recently died on Thursday. Soon, they’ll all be gone.

Each search can take a month or more, querying military organizations far and wide. So, imagine my joy when I stumbled onto a 97-year-old veteran not 20 minutes from my house: Bertha “Buddie” Curnutte, also a Rosie the Riveter. Girl power before there was girl power, right?

Still, that was almost 80 years ago. Surely Curnutte had mellowed.

When I stepped onto her porch last Saturday, she told me she’d double-booked the afternoon. Her eyes sparkled and her words were decisive. “I’m also waiting on Lowes. My dryer should have been here Thursday.”

They’d tried to schedule it for Sunday. “‘NO, SIR!’ I told them. ‘I go to church. You’ll bring it on Saturday!’”

I grinned and jumped right in. 

It seems, as a teenager, Curnutte had answered an ad that ran daily in her newspaper, begging women to join the wartime effort and build planes. 

“That was 1943 and I didn’t get the job right off,” she said. “You had to go to school for three weeks to see if you could learn to use the riveting gun, which was a large, long metal tube powered by an air compressor.”

Curnutte passed and soon realized the job wasn’t for just anybody. “I worked with another woman as a team on the wing of an airplane lined with holes about an inch and a half apart. I was on one side with the riveting gun and a piece of metal that went into the hole. On the other side, she held a bar of metal up to the hole, about the size of a chocolate bar only thicker. We’d move along the wing driving the rivets in, but they had to be exactly straight. If not, air would get in the hole and eventually work that rivet loose and someone could die.”

She looked at me seriously, explaining that the holes couldn’t be made bigger. “If it went in wrong, it had to be drilled out.” Apparently, that was no small feat.

Even though she stood all day, every day, Curnutte shrugged off the difficulty. “We were young and we knew the boys needed us. They were over there fighting for our country, willing to die for us. We all pulled together, doing what we could do.”

After a year and a half as a Rosie, she joined the Coast Guard in early 1945. Curnutte began moving troops as a seaman and then became a medic. That’s when she met her husband — a Marine badly injured by a grenade on Okinawa. He would go on to become a pastor.

“Tell me your favorite Old Testament character?” I asked.

It didn’t surprise me that she chose a strong woman. The 1st Book of Samuel opens with the story of Hannah, who gave birth to one of the most important figures in Hebrew history — but first, she suffered a rebuke.

It seems Hannah had not been able to conceive, and so she went to the Lord’s house to pray. She was distraught, weeping and pleading with God. The priest, thinking she was drunk, gave her a tongue lashing. That’s when Hannah explained that she was praying fervently. 

The priest then gave her a blessing and she gave birth to a son, naming him Samuel. As I said, he’s one of the greatest figures in Scripture. Samuel will transition Israel into a monarchy, anointing her first two kings. 1 Samuel 1:1-20, 3:1-28:19

Bertha “Buddie” Curnutte has a gift; she used her strong willpower for her God and her country. The Lord has given each of us a gift — use it for His glory. Use it for greatness.

On Monday, Memorial Day, remember the soldiers who died for this country. And thank those who’ve served. Freedom is not free.

The Rev. Mathews (B.A., M.Div., J.D.) is a faith columnist and a seminary graduate. Contact Mathews at Letters@RAMathews.com.

Copyright © 2021 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.