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102-year-old grandma's courageous WWII past revealed

102-year-old's courageous past revealed
Social media post helps woman discover her grandmother's World War II past 09:39

It was two years ago when Tara Garcia reached out to "CBS Mornings" lead national correspondent David Begnaud. Garcia's grandmother, Crescencia, 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 Crescencia's dog tag numbers. Turns out, Crescencia was in a burn unit about 30 kilometers from Birmingham, England—treating soldiers because there was such a manpower shortage all over Europe. 

Crescencia 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.  

Crescencia Garcia is a Puerto Rican-born veteran who served in a burn unit in Birmingham, England.  Garcia Family

"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. 

Crescencia'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. 

Crescencia 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," Crescencia said.

After the war, Crescencia 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. 

Crescencia married Esteban Garcia in 1947 and together they raised three children in the Bronx. Garcia Family

Crescencia's service to her country caught the attention of first lady Jill Biden who called Crescencia to thank her for her service. The phone call was a complete surprise to Crescencia. CBS News was there when she received the call. 

"Wow. my salute for you, woman," Crescencia told Dr. 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," the first lady said.  

Crescencia and her granddaughter, Tara, receive a Facetime call from first lady Jill Biden.

"And I salute you. Keep it up. Keep up the good work," Crescencia replied.  

"I'm trying to follow in your footsteps. In your example," the first lady responded.  

Crescencia'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. 

Editor's note: Crescencia Garcia died on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. She was 103 years old. 

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