'This lady has lived a heck of a life’: Wilmington WWII vet celebrates her 100th birthday

Reva Gornbein volunteered to serve and eventually became the person to escort Adolf Hitler’s secretary from Dachau to Berlin to face a court martial in 1945.

'This lady has lived a heck of a life’: Wilmington WWII vet celebrates her 100th birthday
Reva Gornbein volunteered to serve and eventually became the person to escort Adolf Hitler’s secretary from Dachau to Berlin to face a court martial in 1945. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Eight days after President Trump named Wilmington the country’s first World War II Heritage City, a local veteran of that war celebrated her 100th birthday.

On Thursday, Reva Gornbein received a hero’s ‘happy birthday’ thanks to some dedicated friends and family who coordinated a drive-by birthday parade in her honor featuring the Patriot Guard Riders of North Carolina, along with Wrightsville Beach police and firefighters.

“I feel I’m 25. I don’t feel 100, never felt 100. I can’t believe I’m 100,” Gornbein said.

Ride Captain and retired Marine Corps Captain Bob Page presented Gorbein with a plaque of appreciation, an American flag and a commemorative coin.

“This lady has lived a heck of a life and this is our greatest generation so we wanted to honor her today and show her a parade and give her some support,” Page said.

At 100 -- she’s sharp, witty, and more than willing to tell you how she volunteered to serve.

“When the war came and they said ‘a woman can be in the army’ I’m here! I was one of the first ones,” she said.

Gornbein served in the U-S Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Corp, initially.

According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, she was stationed at Turner Field in Georgia and worked on bombers as a radio mechanic before becoming a drill sergeant.

In 1945, she was sent to Europe where she worked in the court system and was responsible for traveling to the Dachau concentration camp to bring Adolf Hitler’s secretary back to Berlin to face a court-martial.

“I said to him “Schveig!” That means keep your mouth shut! And he never opened his mouth,” she said. “He was afraid of me!”

Gornbein has also contributed to the preservation of our global history.

Gornbein is also Jewish.

She says seeing a camp firsthand was very important to her at the end of the war.

“When I was stationed in Berlin, we captured Berlin, and all the Americans were in charge, I said every single day I’m so lucky I’m American,” she said.

Reva Gornbein was among the first women to volunteer for service during World War II.
Reva Gornbein was among the first women to volunteer for service during World War II. (Source: Dept. of Veteran's Affairs)

Gorbein was recognized as the Veterans Affairs' “Veteran of the Day” in 2017.

So what’s the secret to her longevity?

She says take charge of your own life. Own your mistakes. Fix them and press forward.

“And have a lot of friends," she said. "Friends are crucial.”

At 5′3″ the former drill sergeant carries a glint in her eye.

“I’ve lived a good life, I did everything I wanted to do so I’m very, very lucky,” she said.

Her son, Michael Stetten, says his mother often spoke about the war and her service.

“We would hear about it all the time," he said. "She’s a depression child, and I think they’re very tough, very resilient and she takes care of herself. She really likes to be independent.”

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