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Centenarian World War II veteran and pioneering Black nurse celebrates milestone birthday in Rhode Island

Fleming flips through a photo album at her home in Bristol. (WJAR)
Fleming flips through a photo album at her home in Bristol. (WJAR)
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A Rhode Island resident and war Veteran is celebrating a major milestone.

Dr. Bennie Fleming, who served as a nurse in World War II, turned 100 years old on Sunday.

"Unbelievable how the years go by,” Fleming told NBC 10's Temi-Tope Adeleye.

"People ask me, you know, if I'm excited, and I say no I'm just trying to make it to Sunday. If I can make it to that 100, then I'll get excited,” Fleming said.

A Texas native, Fleming served in multiple forts in the 1940’s when the armed services were still segregated.

"Barracks for the Black nurses and barracks for the Whites, and we were not involved in the Officer's Club at that time,” said Fleming.

"That experience for me was the reason that I don't talk too freely about my time in the service," Fleming said.

She would go on to meet her future husband, Lt. Theodore Fleming, a doctor from Rhode Island, at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and they soon moved to Rhode Island and started a family.

Fleming continued to work as a nurse, becoming the first Black nurse to teach at Rhode Island College.

She taught young people for more than 40 years before retiring at 71.

Fleming is still active. She walks two miles every day and is an avid gardener. She often drives to Boston and hopes to sail to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2.

"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. But I've been lucky in that way," Fleming said.

As Fleming looks back on her 100 years, she offered a piece of advice on happiness and longevity.

"If there's a lesson in learning how to live, it's to try to help somebody along the way, and just don't try to be so negative."

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