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Home / Rosie the Riveter

99-year-old Pasadena woman receives recognition for ‘Rosie the Riveter’ work

The iconic image of “Rosie the Riveter” symbolizes the vast army of working women who took to the U.S. aircraft industry during World War II — and among these trailblazers is 99-year-old Pasadena resident Shirley Virginia Kelley Bellemeur, who is only now gaining recognition for her substantial contributions during the war.

For years, Bellemeur’s wartime service remained undisclosed as she raised three boys and lived a conventional life post-war, ABC7 reported. But her history has much more to it — she personifies an authentic “Rosie the Riveter.” 

Toiling as an actual “Rosie the Riveter” during the war, Bellemeur recounted her days at age 20 when she would crawl inside the double wings of fighter planes to rivet them back together. Her petite physique made this critical, difficult task possible and negated the need for completely new wings. Bellemeur’s dedicated work her to achieve the rank of aviation metalsmith 3rd class.

“I would crawl along inside the wings — and the wings are double wings,” Bellemeur told ABC7.

The former aircraft builder and current resident of the Pasadena Meadows Nursing Center carried this monumental story within her, mostly veiled from the world, until Bellemeur’s curious doctor took the time to delve deeply into her life. Dr. Kristen Eddy, clinical psychologist at the nursing home, described her astonishment as she discovered more about Bellemeur’s past.

“The more she talked the more my jaw dropped, the more amazed I was at the contribution she had given,” Eddy told ABC7.

With the surfacing of Bellemeur’s outstanding contribution, public recognition was not far off. She recently received the 2023 Congressional Leadership of the Year Award along with a Congressional Certificate of Recognition. 

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, arranged for the awards of recognition for Bellemeur. 

“She is so humble and she seems so overwhelmed by her being awarded all this and yet she did such an important thing for our country,” Chu told ABC7. “She stepped up when we needed it.”

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