If you wanted to learn more about World War II, you might read a couple of history books (or scroll through a few pages on the internet). Or, you could ask Betty Reid Soskin.
Soskin personally remembers Amelia Earhart’s final departure and ultimate loss. She also recalls the ammunition ship explosion at Port Chicago in July 1944.
At 100 years old, Betty Reid Soskin was the oldest active U.S. national park ranger until she retired in March after more than 15 years with the National Park Service (NPS) working to share her personal experiences along with those of diverse women who worked on the World War II home front.
“To be a part of helping to mark the place where that dramatic trajectory of my own life, combined with others of my generation, will influence the future by the footprints we’ve left behind,” Soskin says.
Two weeks after her retirement, park-goers and history enthusiasts celebrated Soskin’s impressive and impactful career on April 16 in Richmond, California.
Before joining the National Park Service in 2011, Soskin worked with the City of Richmond in collaboration with the NPS to develop the general management plan for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.
Then, Soskin worked on a grant-funded project to uncover untold stories of African Americans on the Home Front during WWII, which led to a temporary position working with the NPS at the age of 84.
Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park was established in Richmond, California in the year 2000, to tell an important bit of U.S. history.
Richmond’s Kaiser Shipyards built nearly 750 ships during World War II, which makes it one of the most productive shipyards in history. The city had 55 war industries and, today is home to many intact historical buildings.
“Betty has made a profound impact on the National Park Service and the way we carry out our mission,” says NPS Director Chuck Sams, who presented Soskin with a Challenge Coin to honour her commitment to and impact on the NPS.
The interpretive programs Soskin led during her career illuminate the stories of African Americans and other people of colour in ways that have reshaped how the NPS conveys their stories across the country.
“I am grateful for her lifelong dedication to sharing her story and wish her all the best in retirement. Her efforts remind us that we must seek out and give space for all perspectives so that we can tell a more full and inclusive history of our nation,” said Sams.
“The National Park Service is grateful to Ranger Betty for sharing her thoughts and first-person accounts in ways that span across generations,” says Naomi Torres, acting superintendent of Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.
Soskin’s own story is that of a woman who grew up in a Cajun-Creole family that settled in Oakland, California after fleeing “southern hostility” and a devastating flood in New Orleans.
“She has used stories of her life on the Home Front, drawing meaning from those experiences in ways that make that history truly impactful for those of us living today,” explained Torres.
If you want to learn Betty’s history firsthand, tune into her weekly Thursday chats.
“Being a primary source in the sharing of that history—my history—and giving shape to a new national park has been exciting and fulfilling,” Soskin says. “It has proven to bring meaning to my final years.”