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'Rosie the Riveter'

  • Helen Chomyn, 91, of Lehighton, holds the tools she used to inspect shells at Bethlehem Steel during World War II.
    Helen Chomyn, 91, of Lehighton, holds the tools she used to inspect shells at Bethlehem Steel during World War II.
Published September 13. 2012 05:02PM

Helen Chomyn was born in Nesquehoning in 1921, when Warren G. Harding was president and Coco Chanel introduced her signature perfume, Chanel No. 5.

She grew up to work as a "Rosie the Riveter" during World War II, shares her birthday with the infamous attack on American soil by Middle Eastern terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, and with a happier event, her wedding day.

On Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon, Helen turned 91. Her birthday was celebrated on Sunday with her children and grandchildren.

A daughter of Ukrainian immigrants Wasyl and Antonia Matsinko, she was one of 10 children, two of whom died at early ages. As a teenager, the small-town girl ventured to New York City to work with her sister, Mary, in a mill that made yarn for crocheting.

Two of their brothers also worked in the city, and on pay days they pooled their earnings to pay their bills, sending anything left over back home to help their parents.

Two years later, she returned to Pennsylvania. In 1942, she married Paul Eckhart. The couple had two children, Dennis and Karen. Paul worked at Bethlehem Steel, and the young family lived in Lehighton, and was active in Grace Lutheran Church.

In 1943, seven months after their first child, Dennis, was born, their lives changed forever when Paul was drafted into the U.S. Army.

With her husband overseas, Helen did her part for the war effort. She applied for and was hired as a full-time inspector of Army shells at Bethlehem Steel. Each day, she rode to work with six co-workers she was the only woman.

Her mother cared for Dennis while she labored for 90 cents an hour, the only woman on the quick-moving inspection line.

Her favorite part of the job?

"I was helping the Army," she said proudly.

When the war ended, so did her job.

"I was glad the war was over, and that we were in better shape. And I was glad it was all over and Paul was coming home," she recalls.

Her husband returned from war with a Bronze Star for bravery, and suffering from malaria. He died at age 46 in 1962.

As Helen worked to support herself and her children, she also earned her high school diploma, later attending classes at Cedar Crest College, Allentown as she worked her way up the ladder at the Phoebe-Devitt Homes.

After 14 years as a widow, she met widower Michael Chomyn of Philadelphia. They wed on her birthday, Sept. 11, 1976.

The two had a good life together, traveling extensively.

Helen had spent her 81st birthday in a rehabilitation center, recovering from a stroke. She says she remembers hearing planes flying overhead, and wonders if they were the same passenger jets that had been hijacked by the terrorists.

At around the same time, Michael developed Alzheimer's, and she nursed him through the illness. He died on May 21, 2011.

Helen, who lives in Lehighton, is grateful for her life, the good along with the bad.

"I thank God for everything, especially the parents He gives us to instruct and train us in our early age," she said.

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