Nurse who served during World War II celebrates 100th birthday

A Black nurse who served during World War II has turned 100 years old.
A Black nurse who served during World War II has turned 100 years old.(WJAR)
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 1:14 PM CST
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WJAR) – A Black woman who served as a nurse during World War II just celebrated her 100th birthday.

Dr. Bennie Fleming, from Rhode Island, turned 100 years old Sunday.

While celebrating the milestone, Fleming looked over photos from her past.

“I’m looking at somebody who was so young who thought she knew everything but knew absolutely nothing,” she said.

One of the photos shows a very young Fleming as a wartime nurse.

“That experience for me was the reason that I don’t talk too freely about my time in the service,” she said.

Other photos show Fleming with former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama and special family portraits.

“Unbelievable how the years go by,” Fleming said.

Fleming said it all began for her when she started her service in the 1940s going from one fort to the next and experiencing segregation first-hand.

“Barracks for the Black nurses and barracks for the whites, and we were not involved in the officer’s club at that time,” she said.

While Fleming was at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, she met the person she would marry, a doctor from Rhode Island.

Fleming moved to Rhode Island with her husband, had children and became the first Black nurse to teach in the School of Nursing in Rhode Island. She worked in different hospitals and sadly lost her husband to cancer 30 years ago.

Fleming educated Rhode Island youth for more than 40 years before retiring at age 71.

“It’s so rewarding to have young people because I was working with young people. That’s why I wanted to be in Planned Parenthood, to help them along the way. And I value, I value very much my work with Planned Parenthood,” she said.

At 100 years of age now, Fleming still remains very active. She drives to Boston and walks two miles every day. She also is an active gardener.

“Oh, I love my garden,” she said.

Fleming said she wants to keep moving to maintain her independence.

“Fortunately, I don’t have any physical problems except having broken a leg, a femur or something like that, but I don’t have any physical diseases that you know some other people have that keep you from doing things. So, I’ve been lucky in that way,” she said.

In 2002, the Rhode Island Senate passed a resolution honoring Fleming for her lifetime of service to the children of Providence schools.