Born Sept. 25, 1921 in Quincy, Florida, Cain joined the Army Nurse Corps in July of 1943 and was transported to Camp Robinson in Arkansas after basic training. Cain, who had attended nursing school, said her decision to sign up was made partly because fellow nursing students wanted to join.
“I joined because I had some friends that wanted to; we got together and we signed up,” Cain said. “Three or four of us had been to nursing school together, and they were needing a lot of nurses, so we just signed up. I really enjoyed my experience.”
Once orders were received, Cain was sent to Boston, where she boarded a ship bound for England. The ship, USS Argentina, was an ocean liner that hadn’t been fully converted to a troop ship at the time Cain boarded, so she recalls being required to dress for dinner. After arriving in the UK, Cain was sent to Abergavenny, Wales, to work in the station hospital there.
“We were stationed near where troops were stationed, so we could take care of the soldiers while they were in waiting,” Cain said. “We were at a station hospital; there was a field hospital that was closer to the front line, so when they got them stable they would send them to us. We lived in Quonset huts while we were there, and I was in Wales for one year and 11 months. I never thought I’d wind up in Wales.”
Though Cain and the other nurses were healers instead of front line soldiers, certain precautions had to be taken to ensure their safety. Cain recalls being taught to handle guns despite her status as a Reserve Nurse.
“In England, we had to learn how to fire every kind of gun they had, which scared me to death. It scared the people that were teaching us too — really scared them,” she laughed. “I never had to shoot, but what happened was some of the people who weren’t ours had gotten behind the lines before, and they taught us to shoot so if it came down to protecting ourselves, we could do it.”
When her time in Wales was concluded, Cain was sent to Berlin and Paris on various assignments before returning to the United States and being discharged in February of 1946. As a woman involved in what was primarily a man’s war, Cain’s experience could have been difficult or isolating; however, she remembers that at the core of things, the difference between male and female wasn’t such a great gulf.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of difference, except that you had to learn to put up with whatever situation you got into,” Cain said. “I learned to get along with any and every kind of people in situations that sometimes got intense, and I got to know a lot of people, a lot of male people too. It changed me in so many ways, meeting so many different people from so many different places in the world… It really affected the whole world, our world.”
Cain celebrated her 96th birthday in September and has done a lot of living since her involvement with WWII was concluded, but if given the choice, she said she would join up and do it all over again, and encouraged other young women who are considering joining the military to do the same.
“I would do it over again, yes. And I would say join. Learn all you can about what’s going on and where you’re traveling. You have to know what’s going on in the world,” Cain said. “We knew what we would be getting into then because they told us. But you never really know until you experience it.”
We honor you, Lucille Cain.