Elva Bertha clearly remembers in 1945 as four Japanese men got off a plane and headed for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters.
World War II was coming to an end, and she was there to see it happen.
“They walked right in front of us,” said Bertha, 100, of Whitehall, who served in the Army Nurse Corps during WWII. “They came in on a plane. They weren’t in military form. They had on long black coats and big hats.”
It’s a moment Bertha will never forget.
“That was a thrill. We knew for sure we were going home,” she said.
Bertha, who turned 100 on Sept. 7, was recognized Dec. 5 by Whitehall Borough and state Rep. Bill Kortz for her years of service and longevity.
“I’ve been pretty lucky with the first 100 years,” Bertha said. “I’m hoping the second 100 will be just as good to me.”
Aside from a bum knee, which she’s willing to sell to the highest bidder, Bertha said life has been good to her for the last century.
The Pittsburgh native attended nursing school at St. Francis Hospital, graduating in 1939.
She went on to work at a tuberculosis hospital.
In 1941 when the war broke out, her then-boyfriend, Paul, headed off to serve. By February 1942, Bertha signed up as a nurse. After a year of training in the U.S., she was sent to Australia, then New Guinea then the Philippines, following MacArthur’s path.
“It was a big, long trip, but it was worth it,” she said. “It does something to you when you see all these young boys and you don’t know if they’re ever going to go home.”
She tells stories of soldiers she helped along the way, many times by offering them support and friendship.
Upon returning home, Bertha married Paul, and the two moved to Whitehall and had five children.
“Thank God, I had all that training,” Bertha said with a chuckle. “I needed that with the five kids.”
Bertha always took care of everyone in the neighborhood as the nurse, her daughter Diane Reutzel said.
Bertha stayed at home with her family until the youngest child was 10 years old. She was excited to head back to work and got a job at Bell Telephone, where she worked as a nurse helping people injured on the job.
Paul died nearly 25 years ago, Bertha said, and she retired.
She now spends her days taking care of her home and new Shih Tzu puppy, Buddy.
She finally gave up driving last year, although she misses it greatly.
One difficult thing about being 100, she said, is most of her friends are no longer here.
Bertha now spends her days with her family. She has six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
“She was a wonderful mother,” Reutzel said. “She raised five fairly successful children. We’re all very proud of her motherhood and her service to the Army.”
Bertha, who says she doesn’t feel 100, wishes she knew what kept her kicking this long.
“God knows? If I knew, I’d tell it,” she said. “I could bottle it up and sell it, don’t you think?”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.