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Old 07-04-2022, 02:41 AM
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Post Mi Abuela, the World War II Hero

Mi Abuela, the World War II Hero
By: Adriana V. Lopez - Oprah Daily News - 07-02-22
Re: https://www.oprahdaily.com/entertain...-ii-hero-6888/

Photo link: https://hips.hearstapps.com/hmg-prod...g?resize=480:*

More than seventy-five years after she served in World War II, Cresencia “Joyce” Garcia, was finally being remembered. When her name was called, the Puerto Rican-born veteran did her best to stand as straight as possible, despite the fatigue and curved spine that come with turning 102 years old. Her vision and her Alzheimer’s-riddled memory weren't all there anymore either, but with the standing ovation she received at Carnegie Hall on Veteran’s Day 2021, she could finally feel the joy and relief that comes with recognition after decades of rejection.

New to the spotlight’s warmth, the elegant centenarian, in a sparkling burgundy beret, face mask, sunglasses, and a paisley scarf across her tiny shoulders, had gotten all dolled up to go “on a date” with her daughter and granddaughter to midtown Manhattan’s great cultural capital. Television cameras surrounded her and strangers thanked her for her service, and asked about the war and segregation. Public events like these cause her to feel somewhat disoriented. When they finally made their way to the plush red velvet seats of the New York concert hall she leaned into her granddaughter Tara to ask, “Why are they making such a fuss?”

There was a time when Tara Garcia, 49, a creative talent acquisition specialist at Vice media, might have asked the same question. Abuela Cresencia, her paternal grandmother, had kept their patriotic Bronx family, which included Cresencia’s late husband Esteban Garcia, also a WWII veteran, two sons Esteban and Angel, who served in Vietnam, and daughter Rhona, who was an ROTC officer—in the dark about details of her military service. “We had always known that she was a veteran,” says Tara, “and we knew that she had experienced discrimination in the service, but she didn't expand beyond that.”

Tara remembers walking into her grandparents’ Co-Op City, Bronx apartment and seeing Cresencia and Esteban’s military portraits hanging alongside one another in the hallway. She always smelled competitiveness between them. Esteban’s family had had a bakery in Spain before they emigrated to Puerto Rico. Their biracial marriage stirred a pot of emotions not only for his family back in the day, but well into this century for those who mistook Cresencia, a Black Latina, for his nurse, and not his wife, in his last years of life.

Unlike Abuela Cresencia, Tara’s grandfather often told epic stories of his time in the war, like the one about how her aunt, Rhona, got her name. The story goes that he had swum to safety after a German-guided bomb sank the British troopship, Rhona, in 1943 where he served as the ship’s cook. Considered one of the worst tragedies in maritime history, more than one thousand U.S. soldiers were killed. Esteban told himself that if he survived he would name his first daughter after the ship. He did survive, and like any good storyteller, he also told his granddaughter Tara that a shark had eaten his missing teeth.

2nd photo link: https://hips.hearstapps.com/hmg-prod...g?resize=640:*
By: Cresencia Garcia on her wedding day.

Abuelita Cresencia may not have shared tales of her life in the war, but she didn’t need to for Tara to know that she was a fighter. Cresencia left school in Puerto Rico and set off for New York at the age of 18 in 1938, where she began making a living sewing and patternmaking. The five-foot-four force of nature with curly bangs and an upswept hairdo popular in those days would tell herself, “I’m going to be somebody.” But she soon learned that segregation rules limited her. Because she was a Black Latina, she “was not considered white or Black,” Cresencia told the American Veterans Project in an interview earlier this year. “I said to myself, What the hell am I? When I had to write my color, I just wrote ‘Puerto Rican.’”

Eventually, she earned enough to bring her mom and sister to live with her before enlisting. She married Esteban in 1947 and they lived a quiet life in the Bronx, where she raised her family and eventually retired at 70. She loved the arts, dancing, taking artistic photographs, devouring Harlequin romance novels, and listening to music by Los Panchos, the Beatles, and Kenny Rogers. To her, music sounded all the better with a glass of whiskey after Church on Sundays, where she contributed to her community as a Eucharistic minister (often a layperson in the Catholic Church who helps a priest administer the Holy Communion).

By April 2020, Cresencia had moved to a care facility in the Bronx, the borough she still called home. At the time, nursing homes around the city were plagued with Covid, and just a week away from her hundredth birthday, she contracted the deadly virus. Although Cresencia’s daughter kept everyone in the family up to date on developments, Tara couldn’t stop wondering who was comforting her grandmother and if she would ever see her again. “Our faith is strong, but she is stronger,” says Tara about how Cresencia dealt with the Covid scare. “She's weathered world wars, had sons deployed to war, navigated life in the South Bronx when it was at its worst, buried her mom and a husband. She has a very special relationship with her Creator and that was what I leaned into.”

When Cresencia’s health worsened, doctors placed her in an ICU. Tara’s stress heightened, and to cope, she asked people on social media to pray for her grandmother. An Instagram post that included an old picture of her grandmother in uniform caught the eye of David Begnaud, lead national correspondent at CBS News and Oprah Daily’s Joy Ambassador. He reached out to Tara for permission to repost her message and then again to do a follow-up “feel-good story” on April 18th, 2020, Cresencia’s 100th birthday, about the “tough cookie” who was out of the ICU, and no longer required oxygen because she had beat Covid.

Media attention caught on and Cresencia's story also captured the interest of retired Army colonel Edna W. Cummings. A tenacious and passionate advocate and archivist, Cummings worked for years to bring long-overdue recognition to the survivors of the 6888 unit, the world’s first all-black female battalion sent from the U.S. to Europe during World War II. In 2019, Cummings produced the documentary Six Triple Eight, about the legendary yet relatively unknown battalion.

The women from the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion were in charge of clearing the backlog of mail to help soldiers stay in touch with loved ones. "No mail, low morale," was their motto. Many lost their lives overseas and Cummings had spent four years finding survivors. Cummings convinced Congress to award a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given in the United States, to the six remaining survivors of the 6888—the only female military unit to receive this honor.

“Any time someone contacts me about a female World War II veteran of color, I check the name on several lists to see if they were a member of the 6888th. Garcia’s name was listed under New York,” Cummings told Oprah Daily. So on April 22, 2020, Cummings contacted Tara on Facebook and asked her to cross-check Cresencia’s military dog tag numbers with the ones on record. “It’s her,” Tara messaged Cummings back immediately. “Your grandmother’s name is on a monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in Buffalo Soldier Park,” Cummings replied. “She's one of 855 women who served.” Cresencia was also one of only about four to five Latinas who were part of the segregated unit. “My mind was blown,” says Tara. “What she used to talk about, how she was segregated, it all made sense now. That’s why she felt so isolated.”

OUR FAITH IS STRONG, BUT SHE IS STRONGER. SHE'S WEATHERED WORLD WARS, HAD SONS DEPLOYED TO WAR, NAVIGATED LIFE IN THE SOUTH BRONX WHEN IT WAS AT ITS WORST.
“Mama, why didn't you tell us?" Tara asked, to which Cresencia responded: “Ohhh, I don't want to talk about those things! It's too much!” But Tara, whose family credits her own independent spunk to her grandmother’s genes, began to gently dig further, getting a reluctant Cresencia to slowly open up.

On that fateful day in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Cresencia became determined to defend her nation. She had no idea as she enlisted that the Army would be a painful microcosm of the same racism and sexism that existed in the U.S. She traveled to the South for training and, despite having studied nursing at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, was placed in a segregated unit of the Women’s Army Corps. “It was disgraceful. I had to get up and give my seat to the whites, and the Blacks didn't like me because I was not as black as they were. So I kept to myself.”

In England, she was assigned to the 6810th Hospital Center, about an hour northwest of Birmingham, where her segregated unit was stationed. When her medical skills were finally acknowledged, she was deployed to the tents to take care of wounded soldiers. Alongside doctors and nurses, she worked as a medic treating soldiers of all races in the burn unit. She remembers that the British treated her nicely, better than her fellow Americans, she likes to point out.

“When the war was over I had my one stripe. And that’s it. But I deserved more than that. I stayed there because I wanted to get an honorable discharge. I stood it and took it,” she says with the sass of a prizefighter. “I was discharged as a private first class and that’s what I am.”

As the media attention increased around the lost Puerto Rican-born veteran who had been a member of the Six Triple Eight and beat Covid at 100, Tara began to notice that Cresencia would get uncomfortable with questions about the racism she had endured. Tara, feeling protective of her grandmother, would dissuade journalists from trying to get Cresencia to reveal more. "Look, pick a really painful point in your life and then ask yourself to relive that over and over again,” says Tara.

Apparently, her grandmother also kept private other details of her years in service, which came out as Cresencia's military record was confirmed. Alongside Cresencia's dog tags, Tara found another set of dog tags and a picture of a tall, dark, and handsome soldier. Turns out Cresencia had an Army beau who was also part of an all-black unit, The Tuskegee Airmen. “We contacted his family. We verified that those were his dog tags,” says Tara. “We verified that that was his picture and his grandson was like, “Wow, well, my grandfather died several years ago, but it's really good to know. Thank you for contacting us.”

As tiring as the exposure has been for Cresencia, escorting, protecting, and speaking on behalf of her grandmother has felt like an additional full-time job at times for Tara. When asked by friends why she is doing this and if Cresencia is aware of the turn her life has taken, Tara tells them that there have been moments where her grandmother is actually aware of what's going on and is grateful for it. “She can be a ham sometimes,” laughs Tara. “But this story is bigger than my grandmother. And it's far bigger than me. This is about these women’s contributions moving on in perpetuity. It's about the spotlight being put on a Puerto Rican. [Recognizing] that people from that island sacrificed their lives to defend the rights that everyone has right now.”

Although her Congressional medal arrived in her twilight years, the Garcias feel it still arrived in time for Cresencia to finally feel accepted by the women of the Six Triple Eight and as a proud American born in Puerto Rico, and that means the world to her. “For me, it is validation that she deserves,” says Tara. “And I'm so grateful to these women. I think it's a lesson for us women who are Black and brown. We have been divided by so many other people. But at the end of the day, they throw us all in one bucket all the time. So let's figure out how to live in that bucket together.”

For Tara, there are also lessons from Cresencia's story that serve as reminders for people to speak their truths. There’s no denying that that inner light within Cresencia had dimmed after the war. And burying the details about her segregated service, keeping it from her family, was her way of coping. That's why Tara wants women to know that it's okay to speak about circumstances that changed them because there are other women who are going through the same things. “As a brown woman in this world–and my pigment is like hers,” Tara says before letting out a big sigh. “We're still navigating through this structural racism. And so it gives me the strength to say, it's okay for you to feel this way. It's okay for you to show up. I belong here, even though people are still telling me that I don't. My grandmother was in survival mode every step of the way. To the younger women of the world, don't take your existence for granted.”

Still, even after all that has been revealed, Tara regrets that it’s too late to know the full story. “It's like, there's still her truth that has never been told. For me, all of that has been a facade because we never really got to the meat of what it was that drove her to be that way later on in life.”

Unconsciously, it’s as though by pushing a reluctant Cresencia to talk, Tara was attempting to practice a kind of ancestral healing, where the act of revealing and releasing Cresencia’s wounds and traumas, served to heal what has also been passed down to her descendants. Ultimately, Tara is grateful for the life lessons about courage and perseverance her grandmother has gifted to them with her revelations.

And if there’s one thing she would have all of us take from their story, it’s to make time to ask your elders questions about the circumstances that marked their lives. The act of speaking to family members, not only liberates them of pent-up emotions about the rough patches but offers you a road map out of your own. “This has been the wildest ride for me and my family,” says Tara. “Like opening a closet and finding another secret closet.” One whose hidden items needed to see the light of day.
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Personal note: The story is one that has been handed down by many of our
Grand-Parents and Parents for as long as one can remember. I recall sitting
with my Nana & Papa be told about the old country and the troubles they
had getting to the US via Ellis Island, NY. They left behind all their relatives
and friends to start a new life as American's. It was difficult at first learning
the language and getting Visa's and then becoming American Citizens.
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But they made it raised their Son's who later found in Korea & WWII.
We - their offspring carry their heritage with us and we pass it along
to our kids and grand-kids. It's Family History and it is interesting as
well as knowinig becoming an American back then was everything.
The old country is just that - it was old and had its own history
but coming to America was their dream and they made it happen.
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Happy 4th of July to you all!
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Boats
__________________
Boats

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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