World War II Navy combat veteran turns 100, still loves to dance
By STEVEN MAYER | The Bakersfield Californian | Published: June 18, 2020
BAKERSFIELD, Calf. (Tribune News Service) — Bob Berman turns 100 on Thursday, but his outlook on life seems quite a bit younger.
Just ask his girlfriend.
“He may be 100, but he acts 50,” says his sweetheart, Marilynn Radoumis.
Yes, you heard that right. Berman, who has lived for a full century, has a girlfriend. The lovers live at Brookdale Riverwalk, a retirement community in southwest Bakersfield.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Radoumis said of Berman’s 100th birthday. “I just hope I can do as well.”
He did 18 minutes on the treadmill early Wednesday. How many 100-year-olds can say that?
Berman grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where his mother danced as a chorus girl and his father was a standup comic. His family moved to Southern California when he was 16, and he joined the Navy at 21 — just in time for America’s entry into World War II.
Talk about timing.
He's been called the last local survivor of the infamous attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but Berman resists that title because he wasn't aboard the USS Maryland when the attack came early that bloody Sunday morning.
And don't call him a hero, because he'll have none of that.
Regardless, his resume as a combat veteran is beyond question. Berman saw naval combat at the island of Tarawa, the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the siege of Saipan, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, and the invasion of Okinawa.
“We were hit by kamikazes three times, torpedoed once,” he recalls of the aging battleship the sailors nicknamed “Fighting Mary.”
The Centenarian struggles with his hearing, but his long-term memory seems spot on.
“I served four years and 32 days,” he said of his time in the Navy. He may know the hours and minutes as well.
After the war, during which he and millions of other Americans and allies helped halt fascism and holocaust in Europe and militarism and attempts at global conquest in the Pacific, the young Navy veteran returned to the San Fernando Valley and worked for Pep Boys, rising through the ranks over 17 years. Then he got smart, he says, and started his own auto parts warehouse. He retired in the 1980s.
In his lifetime, he's married and lost two wives to illness, helped raise two children and arrived in Bakersfield in 2008.
For his birthday, someone is delivering him a corned-beef sandwich from Canter's Deli in Los Angeles. As a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, Berman knows and appreciates a great Jewish deli like Canter's.
"You got that right. On the nose," he says in a Brooklyn accent that never quite left him, even after all these years.
"I'll never lose it," he says.
It was a gift, from his mom and his dad and from the city of his birth in 1920 when a loaf of bread was 7 cents and American women won the right to vote.
His advice to mere mortals who may only live to 85 or 90?
"Don't let the grass grow under your feet," he says. "You gotta keep moving."
And what about his plans after the coronavirus lockdown ends, and he's free to dance again to real music, like Harry James and Les Brown and his band of renown?
When you live to be 100, he says, you don't make plans anymore.
"No. You just live day by day."
"I don't know if I'll be here next year," he says.
"But I'm here now."