It was two years ago when Tara Garcia reached out to “CBS Mornings” lead national correspondent David Begnaud. Garcia’s grandmother, Crescensia, had beaten COVID at the age of 100. She needed oxygen at one point but was able to bounce back.
Tara sent pictures of her grandmother in her military uniform to Begnaud who posted a tweet about it. The tweet went viral and it was seen by retired Army Colonel Edna Cummings. She said seeing the photo “was like being in a casino and hitting the jackpot.”
Cummings reached out to Tara to ask for Crescensia’s dog tag numbers. Turns out, Crescensia was in a burn unit about 30 kilometers from Birmingham, England—treating soldiers because there was such a manpower shortage all over Europe.
Crescensia Garcia is one of only six surviving members of an all-female, all-Black, segregated unit that was sent overseas during World War II. Known as the SixTripleEight, the 855 women that served in that unit are now receiving long-overdue recognition.
“They’re the only military women’s unit to receive a congressional gold medal,” Cummings said. “They are part of an elite group of less than 200 recipients. The first being General George Washington.”
When both Tara and Cummings realized the connection, they were ecstatic. Tara told her parents the good news shortly after.
“I looked at my parents and said, ‘I think we just opened Pandora’s box here,'” Tara recalled.
Crescensia’s military history was new information to her family. They discovered that her name can also be found with other World War II veterans’ names on a monument at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
Crescensia told Begnaud when they met that she was just a medic and a proud American. At 102, Crescenia is still full of life.
She was born in Puerto Rico on April 18, 1920—a time when a loaf of bread cost 12 cents, Woodrow Wilson was president and women did not have the right to vote.
When World War II began, she had already moved to New York City and felt a patriotic duty to serve her country.
She enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 24 after being enraged by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She was sent to basic training in Texas.
“They put me in the Black section and there is a White section. That’s America to you. See? That’s America to you and it’s very sad, very sad,” Crescensia said.
After the war, Crescensia married Esteban Garcia II, an Army veteran himself. They raised three children in the Bronx. She spent her post-war years working as a seamstress and pattern maker in New York City’s garment district. Her husband died in 1994 after 47 years of marriage.
Crescensia’s service to her country caught the attention of first lady Jill Biden who called Crescensia to thank her for her service. The phone call was a complete surprise to Crescensia. CBS News was there when she received the call.
“Wow. my salute for you, woman,” Crescensia told Mrs. Biden.
“You are the one that needs to be celebrated. You are one incredible woman and I can’t thank you enough for all your service to our country,” Mrs. Biden said.
“And I salute you. Keep it up. Keep up the good work,” Crescensia replied.
“I’m trying to follow in your footsteps. In your example,” the first lady responded.
Crescensia’s memory is fading, but in that moment she was fully present and it is something that Tara said would remain with her.
“The fact that she knew who that was. Yeah, and she felt that acknowledgment just now. That’s all I needed. That’s all I needed. I just want her to remember, that’s all,” Tara said.
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