"Rosie the Riveter" workers honored for crucial roles in WWII

WASHINGTON --More than two dozen former "Rosie the Riveters" were flown to Washington, D.C. to visit its military monuments to mark Women's History Month.

Fire trucks saluted their plane when it arrived and crowds greeted them as they came out of the jetway. For some it was overwhelming -- for Helen Lyson it was astonishing.

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Helen Lyson was overjoyed by the support she and fellow Rosie the Riveters received in Washington, D.C. CBS News

"Something I did 72 years ago. I never thought they would bring it up now."

What Lyson and the 30 other women who flew in from Detroit did had as much to do with winning World War II as the fighting at the front.

"The fellows were gone. Somebody had to make those planes. We would have lost the war, that's for sure," said another "Rosie" worker, Helen Jedele.

Jedele went to work at the Ford Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which at its peak was turning out one new bomber every hour.

But Jedele said the job wasn't too tough for her. "It's a heavy gun that you hold, but I grew up on the farm on the tractor and did many things heavy."

Immortalized in the iconic wartime poster as Rosie the Riveter, these women changed America. They didn't just help win the war, but set off a seismic shift in the role of women out of the home and into the workplace.

"Rosie the Riveter" dressed in overalls and bandanna was introduced as a symbol of patriotic womanhood in the 1940's. AP Photo

Back then, they were just teenagers."You didn't think about the war at that time. Teenagers don't think about those things," Jedele explained.

But they did think about the money. Lyson made $1.10 an hour for connecting engine hoses at Willow Run. "That was good money ... in them days."

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Helen Jedele CBS News

Lyson was born in Poland, and she was so desperate for a paying job that she changed the date on her Polish baptism certificate to make herself a year older.

"I gave my parents all my pay, because they needed that money. They were able to pay off their mortgage and they put in electricity -- we didn't have electricity at home," she said.

"It's breathtaking. So many people. They come up to me like they know me," Jedele said after their memorial trip.

Wearing the trademark Rosie bandanna, they visited the World War II memorial, still astonished that what was to them a paycheck could seem so historic to the rest of us.

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More than two dozen former Rosie the Riveters were flown to Washington, D.C. to visit its military monuments CBS News

"I never realized until now how important we were when we were working there. I never realized it," Lyson said.

They're in their 90's now, but these Rosies can still tell you a lot about the strength of our country.