Using social media as a tool to celebrate the life of a grandmother, family of one New York centenarian, who served overseas during World War II, has reclaimed some of the national hero’s valiant history.
Cresencia Garcia, a vibrant 102-year-old, served her company in one of its most intense wars in the world’s history as a member of Six Triple Eight. That unit consisted of 855 women of African descent who served in Europe at the height of the war. During her tenure in the military, she was selected because of her light skin to serve as a medic and help some of the wounded soldiers in England.
Now one of six surviving members of the unit, this history was only recently discovered, even by her family, after a news reporter tweeted a feel-good story about Garcia beating COVID-19 at the age of 100 out to his followers.
That one mention on Twitter cracked open a wealth of wonder that led to her family discovering that she didn’t just “serve” in the military but was a hero.
This year, Garcia was one of the living members of the unit to receive the nation’s most respected honors for a hero.
According to retired Army Col. Edna Cummings, Garcia and the sisters she served with received the same medal as this country’s first president — a fact that Tara Garcia, the granddaughter of the soldier, was clueless about, CBS News reports.
Cummings shared, “They’re the only military women’s unit to receive a congressional gold medal. They are part of an elite group of less than 200 recipients. The first being General George Washington.”
Congress voted to honor the women with the prestigious medal on the last day of Black History Month, voting unanimously (422-0) to award the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions bestowed by Congress to individuals, institutions or groups.
The bill was sponsored by Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore in 2019, and was able to mobilize 295 co-sponsors.
Rep. Moore said part of the reason she supported the bill was because of the tremendous fortitude the women possessed.
“Facing both racism and sexism in a warzone, these women sorted millions of pieces of mail, closing massive mail backlogs, and ensuring service members received letters from their loved ones. A Congressional Gold Medal is only fitting for these veterans who received little recognition for their service after returning home.”
The colonel and now historian said she saw the post about Garcia when it was blasted out by CBS lead correspondent David Begnaud on April 18, 2020, to celebrate her 100th birthday. In his caption, he mentioned that she served in the U.S. Army during WWII in “England caring for wounded soldiers.”
When Cummings, who co-produced the documentary “The Six Triple Eight,” saw the tweet, she zeroed in on the Bronx native and Puerto Rican immigrant’s uniform. She got excited because if her suspicions were correct, she found an additional link to a puzzle she has been putting together for years as a curator of the unit’s legacy.
For Cummings, it “was like being in a casino and hitting the jackpot.”
The documentarian reached out to Tara and asked her to share her grandmother’s dog tag numbers, which helped her unlock more information about her service such as exactly where she served.
Garcia’s unit was located in Birmingham, England. While most of the units sorted mail and created a system to do their job in a record-breaking amount of time, Garcia treated those in the burn unit, 30 kilometers away.
The family, Tara and her parents, also found that Garcia’s name is etched in the monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, that Cummings helped get erected.
In a recent interview with Begnaud, she talked about being sent to Texas to do basic training during Jim Crow.
She explained, “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.”
Garcia also said she did believe what she did was that special, she was just helping people. She said, “It wasn’t much. I was just a medic. I was just there to take care of the hurt. When they came in, I took care of them.”
As a special surprise, the producers were able to get First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to FaceTime and express her gratitude for Garcia’s service.
While Garcia’s memory is fading, she recognized Biden’s name and was excited to speak to her. She said, “Wow. my salute for you, woman. 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.”
“And I salute you. Keep it up. Keep up the good work,” Garcia said back to her before the first lady replied, “I’m trying to follow in your footsteps. In your example.”
Tara was overwhelmed to the point of tears that this level of deserved honor has finally touched her grandmother.
“The fact that she knew who that was. Yeah, and she felt that acknowledgment just now,” she said. “That’s all I needed. I just want her to remember.”
Garcia married Esteban Garcia II, another army veteran. The two raised three children in Bronx, New York, and after her service in the military, she worked as a seamstress and a pattern maker in New York City’s garment district.
When Begnaud thanked her for her service, Garcia graciously received his words and replied, “You’re welcome. I am proud to be an American.”