99-year-old merchant marine vaccinated after months of trying

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
99-year-old Billie Pennings is a World War II veteran who served with the U.S. Merchant Marines. Credit: WINK News.

UPDATE: Since this story was first reported, Billie Pennings received a vaccine shot from the North Collier Fire Rescue District.


A 99-year-old U.S. Merchant Marine veteran is still waiting for her COVID-19 vaccine. Her family has been fighting to find her an appointment for months and even sent a letter to the governor for help.

Billie Pennings has made the most of all her 99 years so far. She was a radio operator on a Norwegian ship during World War II, serving as one of the few female Merchant Marines.

“I didn’t think too much, anything of being afraid because I just didn’t think about it,” Billie said. “I think when you’re young, you don’t know. You know, it’s always going to happen to somebody else. Not to you.”

Pennings survived the threat of typhoons and war and experienced her twenties across the globe away from home.

“They still had the rules that you couldn’t go to shore in any of the islands without an armed guard,” Billie said.

Now, she simply wants to see her family.

“When you start getting up into the 99s and hundreds, you know, your lifespan is measured in months, not years anymore,” said Parker Pennings, Billie’s son.

Every day Penning lives without a shot is another precious day without seeing friends and family who love her.

“I just have to wait like everybody else,” Billie said.

Parker says he simply can’t get his 99-year-old mother a vaccine.

“Every life is special, and she’s had a significant life history, right?” Parker said. “She’s done a lot of things, and it would be absolutely horrible to lose her because I couldn’t get a vaccine.”

Parker called a phone line set up for veterans of World War II and the Korean War unable to travel to get the vaccine.

The operator told them Billie would get a call soon, giving a mother and son hope in the precious meantime.

“He said they got the vaccine, and they’re out there giving shots, so certainly sooner than later, momma,” Parker told Billie.

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