Stella the Riveter
Though thousands of men made great contributions to fighting for our country in the 1940s, there were also many women who did their part while their husbands, fathers, brothers and other family members were overseas.
Rosie the Riveter became the icon of those women who were working to maintain their families and also supply the war effort. While Rosie might have been a symbolic characterization for women, Stella Camacho is the real deal.
Stella was 22 years old when she went to work at Lockheed in Burbank, Calif. Her husband, Arthur, was a part of 35 missions over France and Germany with the 8th Air Force 466th Bombardment Group in the Army Air Force from 1943-1945. All the while, Stella worked and raised their two children, with the help of Arthur's mother.
Stella met Arthur while living in North Hollywood.
"We were so poor we didn't even have a camera to take pictures at our wedding," she said.
However, "from there was lots of love," she added.
When Arthur came back from the war to work as a stonemason, the couple would both work hard all week, then go out dancing on the weekends. They'd often also take their children out for fun family trips to the beach or camping or even just to the drive-in movies.
"(Arthur and I) loved each other very much," Stella said. "It felt really awful (when he got called to war)."
While her mother-in-law watched the children during the day, Stella was climbing into the wings of B-17 planes.
"They put me in the wing to do the job because I was so tiny," Stella said. "I really didn't know what I was going to get into working there. You just have fun with the other people. I was always ready in my little jeans and plaid shirt and scarf. You couldn't go in there without covering your hair."
On one very memorable occasion, Stella earned her first battle scar when someone drilled through the outside of the wing she was in and into her behind.
As a child of the Great Depression, Stella has always valued hard work, and was pretty much always occupied in some way.
"That's all we did," she explained. "I'm second to the oldest (of ten children). Everybody had to kneel, pray and go to work."
Even now, at 96 years old, and despite macular degeneration in her right eye, Stella still sews and often gifts her creations to family and friends.
"I've done so many things in my life," Stella said.
She's done everything from working for a paper company, then as a riveter, to working as a seamstress in a shop in Beverly Hills where she came face-to-face with several celebrities, including Bobby Darin, Yvonne DeCarlo, George Raft and Debbie Reynolds.
When Stella and Arthur's marriage crumbled, and the couple divorced, Stella just kept moving.
"I said 'I'm going to get myself some money and get myself to work,'" Stella explained.
And that she did. She earned enough money to buy herself a bright red '64 Mustang as a commuter car.
Arthur became ill a few years after their divorce and the woman he'd been seeing left, so Stella went to the hospital, gathered him up and took him home to care for him. They soon remarried and were together until he passed away in 2009.
"It was actually better the second time around," Stella said, recalling how much Arthur spoiled her in their golden years to make up for his past misgivings.
"I still talk to him," she said, pointing to where his urn sits on a side table. "And I bless him."
Nowadays, Stella enjoys spending time with her family, which includes the last three of her four children, four grandkids, six great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. She often boasts about her "nietos'" (Spanish for grandchildren) accomplishments, and is delighted by her grandchildren's kindness.
"My grandson Ron Jr. always calls before he comes out to ask if I'd like a coffee," she said, grinning. Her son, Ron Sr., always treats his mother to her favorite meal: a Wendy's hamburger when he visits.
Though Stella has her guilty pleasures — Burger King French fries and her favorite soap opera "The Young and the Restless" — she attributes her long life to good genes.
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