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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Women’s History Month: 102-year-old Nancy Leftenant-Colon reflects on long career in U.S. Army

AMITYVILLE, N.Y. — As CBS2 celebrates Women’s History Month, we’d like to honor a hero in our midst, a remarkable centenarian from Long Island.

She rose above bigotry and backlash to become the first Black nurse in the desegregated U.S. Army during World War II.

Retired Maj. Nancy Leftenant-Colon never stopped persevering. The spry 102-year-old has lived a life of firsts.

“I really feel that I was put here for a reason,” Leftenant-Colon said.

She was the first Black woman commissioned into the Army and the the only woman ever elected national president of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“This is what I wanted and this is what I went after,” she said.

Her parents, children of slaves, moved their growing family north to Amityville from the Jim Crow South.

“My mother and father were the parents of 12 children,” Leftenant-Colon said.

All 12 graduated from Amityville High School.

“We knew we were here for each other,” Leftenant-Colon said.

Through it all, she said she endured vile acts of racism. Even in her officer’s uniform, a white woman spit in her face.

“I ignored it,” Leftenant-Colon said.

And when she oversaw the wounded in desegregated wards during World War II, “I would be the only Black assigned there, with the comments like, ‘Oh, I hope you are not going to be stationed here.'”

Rising above bigotry, she received the Congressional Gold Medal, and later, as a flight nurse, she set up hospital wards in Korea and Vietnam war zones.

When asked if it was a scary time for her, Leftenant-Colon said, “Oh, you didn’t have time to think about that.”

Leftenant-Colon met Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe, and said she got to travel the world for free.

Eventually, she retired from the military and became the school nurse at Amityville High School.

“It was very important to me that these children get through school and that they had a purpose in life,” Leftenant-Colon said.

Her husband left her widowed. They were unable to have children, so she became dedicated to her students, nieces and nephews.

“There is so much out there that you can snatch from to make a bigger circle,” Leftenant-Colon said.

There is a pioneer in our midst.

“Life has been really very good to me,” she said.

Leftenant-Colon said her lifelong mantra has always been to treat people the way she would want to be treated.

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