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A ‘Rosie the Riveter’ calls Cape Coral home

By IRENE "SUSIE" SMITH - Guardians of the SWFL Military Museum | Aug 13, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Cape Coral resident Helen Anderson.

The first thing you notice about Helen Anderson is her gentle spirit and serene smile.

Born Nov. 2, 1924, the eighth (and last) child of Josephine and Louis Medick, the family occupied a two-bedroom cold-water flat in Chicago. Her father died when she was 9 years old. The family existed on canned milk, small baskets of food and the income brought in by one sister.

“We were thankful for whatever we had. We never complained,” Helen said.

Helen and her future husband, Jack Anderson, were life-long friends and sweethearts, attending the same schools. They married after he returned from the Army.

During World War II, Helen spent over a year as a “Rosie the Riveter” on Douglas Aircraft’s assembly line. She loved the job, the people and would have stayed on but didn’t drive and no longer had transportation.

PHOTO PROVIDED A young Helen Anderson.

Jack was a Paratrooper for the 101st Airborne Division, and a triple Purple Heart recipient. On D-Day he crash-landed on the roof of a farmhouse in France’s Normandy region. The owners, fearing he was a German, rescued him anyway, promising: “You won’t die here.”

Jack replied, “I won’t die anywhere!”

Jack was injured again at the Battle of Bulge, then yet again at the Remagen Bridge on July 25, 1945. Heavy shrapnel incurred during these battles required a long recuperation in Colorado.

“But Jack never complained,” Helen said. “Never. And he never spoke about it as long as he lived.”

Helen and Jack married (she couldn’t recall the year) when he returned to Chicago, and they moved in with her family.

“There were no places to rent at that time,” she said.

Their son Don was born on June 6, 1947.

After the war, Jack was employed as a welder, and for 32 years Helen worked for a Savings & Loan company. Her co-workers nicknamed her “Corky.” She remains friends with many of those people.

“Of course,” she chuckles, “they are much younger than me, only in their 70s.”

Thirty years ago, Jack and Helen had a home built in Cape Coral and became active in a boat club, “even though we didn’t own a boat.”

Sgt.. Jack Arnold Anderson died at age 90 on June 28, 2015, with full military honors, including a horse-drawn carriage. He is buried at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego, California. Helen and their son Don, will be laid to rest there also.

“But above ground,” she notes.

Helen remains in her Cape home, does her own cooking, takes little medications and boasts of good health.

“I fell once, cracked four ribs, was off my feet for about three months, but I am fine,” she said, with a smile and wave of her hand. “I outlived everyone in my family. None of them reached 90 years of age.

“I have a ‘Band of Angels’ who take me to church, keep my house in repair and do my laundry,” she said.

Twenty-2wo of her “Angels” helped celebrate her 95th birthday at Rum Runners.

Helen is no recluse.

“I go everywhere.” She gets around via the city’s mini bus which she highly praises.

Each Tuesday morning she arrives at the Southwest Florida Military Museum with food items the museum can’t afford to buy. She is routinely met by chef Bob Smith, who provides her with a walker and proudly escorts Helen to “her” table for lunch. Everyone seems to be her friend.

She always deposits $10 into the contribution cup, “for my husbands’ and my lunch,” she winks.

Helen also makes monthly contributions to the center.

When she leaves the museum, Smith loads her walker with left-overs which she takes–via the mini bus–to the Lake Kennedy Center on her way home.

Her one regret in life: “I never learned how to make good pierogis.”

Molly Brown may have been unsinkable, but so is Helen “Corky” Anderson.

The Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library, which features an expansive display of military artifacts from all major American wars, is at 4820 Leonard St., Cape Coral, FL 33904. For more information, call 239-541-8704 or visit www.swflmm.org.