The oldest park ranger in the U.S. received a new presidential commemorative coin Sunday to replace one that was stolen last month during a violent home invasion robbery in Richmond, Calif.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave Betty Reid Soskin, 94, the coin and letter from President Obama during a speech at the 72nd anniversary of the Port Chicago Disaster at the Concord Naval Weapon Station. Obama had given her the coin at the national tree-lighting ceremony in December.
“Betty is pretty tough,” Jewell said.
The letter and coin presentation came as a surprise for the longtime ranger, who was attending the ceremony to honor the lives of 320 Americans, mostly African American sailors, killed in 1944 when two ships being loaded with ammunition and bombs suddenly blew up. Soskin’s family hosted sailors who served in the U.S. Navy during that time, Jewell said.
“Seventy-two years ago, she was a witness to that explosion,” Jewell said.
Soskin returned to work last week after she was severely beaten by a robber during the June 27 robbery.
The coin, electronics and jewelry were stolen last month from her town home in Richmond, police said. Soskin told KTVU-TV her attacker dragged her from the bed through a hallway and hit her face. She thought “he was going to kill me,” she told the news station.
At some point during the robbery, Soskin locked herself in a bathroom until he left.
Soskin is a ranger at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, where she leads tours and provides a detailed history of women who worked in factories during wartime. She began working with the park service at 85.
Soskin, who is the great-granddaughter of a slave, worked as a file clerk during World War II when she was 20.
The Rosie the Riveter Trust has established a fund for Soskin to help replace the stolen items.
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