It was October of 1942, and Bertha’s fiancé and love of her life, a U.S. Marine, was fighting in World War II. Until, during the Battle of Guadalcanal, he was killed in action. He was a Marine Corps Hero, earning the honor of the Navy Cross, and even had a destroyer named after him: The USS Hanna. Back home, Bertha was attending college in Manhattan when she heard the news.
“He was so lovely,” Bertha Holmstrand said. “I was devastated.”
The following year, the United States Marine Corps changed their policy, and finally allowed women to join the Marines. Bertha immediately enlisted in honor of her fiancé and in support of her country. She became Staff Sgt. Bertha Santos.
“From the moment you become a Marine, you are taught to respect your country and your people, and to support and protect one another,” said 94-year-old Bertha. It is a great honor to be a Marine, and I am very proud to serve my country.”
Bertha served three years of active duty in WWII. She translated for the Brazilian military and interpreted broadcasts. Having grown up in Brazil, she is bilingual in Portuguese and English. She also served as an aerologist, gathering weather reports and making predictions to help guide pilots. Bertha then went on to serve 10 years on the Marine Reserves. After retiring, Bertha completed her education and earned her Ph.D. in Psychoanalysis. She spent 45 years helping others through therapy, in a private practice in New York City, and as the Clinical Director for the New York City Police Department.
“I have great respect for Police Officers. They lead very dangerous lives,” Bertha said. “They’re just like other groups of people—there’s good and bad in them, just like all of us.”
Bertha loved helping others so much, she didn’t retire until she was 73.
“I loved talking with people and helping them work through problems,” she said. “They taught me more than I taught them. I loved my job.”
Now, Bertha lives at Silver Maples of Chelsea. She enjoys the company of other retirees, many of whom have led exciting and adventurous lives similar to Bertha. She also loves living close to her daughter and her two grandchildren.
“One of the things I love about Silver Maples is the wonderful people I’ve met here,” Bertha said. “There are other Marine Veterans here, as well as military veterans, and retired doctors, lawyers, ministers, and physicists!”
Bertha stays up-to-date with current events in the Marine Corps, in our country, and around the world. She is an expressive and vivacious woman, who speaks with conviction and elegance. She is also fiercely loyal to her family and to her country.
“I will be a Marine until the day I die, which isn’t any time soon!” Bertha said. “I am determined to make it to 100. There is still so much to learn and to see; life is so fascinating. Every day, there are new discoveries and new inventions. The world is full of so many wonderful things. Life is here—let’s live it!”