Pinups make me want to buy war bonds, eat apple pie and wear red lipstick, but the Battlin’ Betties prove that these icons of the past can be much more than a pretty face. This past Saturday I got to delight in the candy coated sex appeal that is pinups at the Cherry Bomb Riot for Veteran Suicide Prevention event put on by the Battlin’ Betties and Michigan based nonprofit 22 2 None. The event was a pinup contest held at Right Brain Brewery, with the funds going to 22 2 None’s mission for veteran suicide prevention.
“On one hand people are curious about us because of the way we look,” Morgan Harrington said.
Morgan said that people will approach them at events and ask them what they’re dressed up for. When she explains that they’re there to talk about mental health and PTSD, people are normally surprised.
“We kind of lure them,” Morgan said with a laugh, “I don’t think a lot of people expect us to be talking about mental health and all these serious issues that affect our vets.”
Morgan is the state leader for the Michigan chapter of the nonprofit Battlin’ Betties. The group is dedicated to supporting military, veterans and first responders. The Betties hold a variety of events that are aimed to create awareness, raise money for, and provide PTSD resources to those who serve.
As for the way they dress?
“Dressing like this is really nostalgic for World War II vets. I think when they see us they feel an instant connection because someone is going out of their way for them. Someone is showing that they care,” Morgan said.
Caring is a huge reason why so many of the Battlin’ Betties joined the group.
“A lot of us have connections to the military. A lot of us have military family, and even the ones who don’t …it’s about having empathy.”
One of the first vets I talk to at the event is Jackie Colebeck, whose daughter is a part of Battlin’ Betties.
“My daughter joined, she’s the youngest one and she likes it and I like coming to support her,” Jackie said.
Jackie enjoys coming to these events not only to support her daughter, but also to meet other vets. Recently she got the opportunity to skydive with a group of veterans and she didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“You’ve got to get out there and just go do it sometimes because…you don’t want them to stop asking.”
Marine veteran and vice president of 22 2 None, Ray McDaniel said that this isn’t the only time that 22 2 None and Battlin’ Betties’ paths have intertwined.
“Our missions are similar,” Ray said. “You know, we wanna support our vets, our brothers and sisters in arms so we do partner with as many different organizations in the state that are serving veterans as we possibly can.”
Ray is a judge in the pinup contest going on, along with fellow Marine vet Mike Kaczmarek. Mike is attending the event not only as a pinup contest judge, but also the support girlfriend Bessy MacGregor who’s a Bettie. Mike and Bessy met at an event where she was working as a Bettie.
“We were actually right here at Right Brain,” Mike said. “It was a 22 2 None event held a few months back. Rock Against Veteran Suicide.”
Beyond supporting 22 2 None and Battlin’ Betties, Mike is a part of a motorcycle club for marines, the Leathernecks. Together the pair make for a perfect Americana couple, and they both love the community that comes with being a part of these veteran focused groups.
“I actually became a Bettie because of one of my friends from high school. We ended up going to our high school reunion together and she told me ‘Bessy you just have to do it.’ So then I did and I loved it. I have met some of my very best friends doing this, and it just is so much fun. You’re meeting people, you’re helping people and you’re making friends.”
Mike and Ray sit down with a panel of other judges to judge the pinup contest. The winner will take the title of Miss Cherry Bomb, appropriate for the last day of the National Cherry Festival.
There are four pinups competing, none of them being Betties.
“We don’t allow our girls to compete in competitions put on by us. We want it to be fair,” said Morgan.
The four contestants strut their stuff and pose around the floor space designated to be a stage in the middle of Right Brain. The women are confident and smiling as one of the Betties reads a description of the pinup and her life. I’m surprised to hear that many of the women competing are mothers and one is even a grandmother.
The crowd claps and whistles enthusiastically for each contestant, even patrons who didn’t initially come to see the pinup competition.
The judges ultimately decided on Tina Barczy, who also happened to be the rockabilly grandma.
“I support the veterans through any cause I can and I love these events because I enjoy meeting people and talking to people.” Tina said.
Ultimately, the Battlin’ Betties are here to support a community of vets the best way they can.
“You know these vets will be going through a really hard time and they’ll feel like they don’t have anyone or they can’t lean on anyone,” Morgan said. “I tell them, ‘you weren’t alone then when you were with your platoon and you’re not alone now because you have us.’”