Friday, September 18, 2009

An Unsung Hero

During World War II, industries across the United States converted to war work, and the factories of Rochester, Michigan were included in their number. National Twist Drill and McAleer Manufacturing were two of the larger companies in the area holding critical defense contracts. The civilian men and women employed in these factories were called “soldiers without guns,” and their collective workplaces were dubbed the “arsenal of democracy” because the products that they built were crucial to the overall war effort.

Often overlooked is the fact that a large number of civilian defense workers also gave their lives for that war effort. A March, 1944 article in Popular Mechanics magazine, entitled “More Deadly Than War,” reported National Safety Council statistics on industrial casualties for the first sixteen months of American involvement in World War II. The numbers were startling: 64,500 Americans were killed on the home front in industrial accidents, the count actually outstripping the number of U.S. military deaths during the same time period. (Although the total number of Americans working in home front industries was far greater than the total number serving in uniform, the civilian death count is still shocking.)

At McAleer Manufacturing in Rochester, Michigan (the site of today's Rochester Mills Beer Company), dangerous but necessary war work was underway. McAleer produced military flares and the M46 Photoflash bomb, and industrial accidents involving the mixing of explosive metals in its bunkers on the east side of town resulted in injury and death for several McAleer workers.

One of those workers was Virginia Ann MacLeod. Virginia was born on November 17, 1920, one of four children of Alexander and Edna Parmenter MacLeod, residents of Willard Street in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills). She attended Rochester High School and was graduated with the class of 1938. A member of the National Honor Society, Virginia was labeled by her classmates as “honest, upright and dependable.”

After McAleer Manufacturing opened its doors in Rochester in 1941, Virginia got a job there. She and two other workers were seriously injured in an explosion at one of the bunkers on December 19, 1942. Virginia suffered second- and third-degree burns and died from her injuries at Pontiac General Hospital on December 24, 1942. She was 22 years old.

Virginia's brother, Kenneth W. MacLeod, was serving with the United States Army at the time of her death. If you visit the World War II Honor Roll located at the east end of the Rochester Municipal Building, you will find Kenneth MacLeod's name listed there. But don't forget his sister, Virginia, who was also a patriot and gave her life in the service of her country, even though she didn't wear a uniform.

Photo: This portrait of Virginia Ann MacLeod is her senior class picture from the 1938 RHS yearbook, courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson.


  1. Back during the war, my grandmother, Lois V. Brown was also one of those workers at McAleers.
    Somewhere, I have one of her pay stubs. God Bless those workers for their support of our troops!

  2. I am researching this company. i have a McAleers polish - cleaner display case from back in the 30's i would say. Super old - glass top case. i think this sat outside on some of the gas stations back then. anyone with info on it?