Police cars and a sign-laden parade of honking SUVs made their way down Mary Fierros’ street recently, celebrating a milestone accomplishment: Mary turned 100-years-old!
It was a historic moment for Fierros, but it wasn’t her first.
Seventy-five years ago Fierros’ husband, Mike, shipped off to Okinawa, Japan to help end World War II.
While he fought overseas, “Tia Mary,” picked up work at Douglas Aircraft riveting the wings of a then-secret fighter jet, the B-29 bomber. She was one of the thousands of hard-working women in the late 1940s who became part of a storied sisterhood called “Rosie the Riveters.”
Now, amid the social-distancing protocols in place to stem the spread of COVID-19, her friends, family and community gathered in their cars to pay tribute to the accomplished woman with not just one but two parades on her big day.
She waved from her camp chair holding her phone, her cheeks raised in a hidden smile behind her cloth face mask.
“I can’t believe it,” Fierros said, her walking cane by her side. “I never expected this.”
She pointed and waved at the cars, who streamers festively flapped in the breeze.
Fierros’ great-niece, Anjelah Johnson organized the initial surprise birthday parade after having to cancel original plans that included a large party with mariachis.
Johnson told Good Morning America, “Tia Mary is an incredible woman who not only served her country as a ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ but has been an example of love, strength and courage.”
“She has watched me grow up, find who I am and become successful in my career. She offers loving grandmother wisdom along with endless hilarious anecdotes—and not just for me, for everyone who is blessed to have her in their lives,” said Johnson, a comedian who has appeared on the show MADtv.
Though Fierros’ husband died in 2012, Tia Mary has remained active in her community, attending local Rosie the Riveter events.
San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia helped lead a second parade to honor Fierros on her birthday and told The Mercury News her work and history seem especially relevant and meaningful today.
“When you read through her history and what she means, it’s pretty symbolic to what we’re going through right now to remain strong and get through it,” Garcia said.