Monday, November 12, 2018
Military News

World War II nurse, turning 100 in Tampa, recalls the pain of invisible wounds

TAMPA — During her time as an Army nurse in World War II, treating the wounded in North Africa, Normandy and the Ardennes Forest, Martha Cameron proved to be a pioneer in more ways than one.

One of the first women to land in France after D-day, part of a corps of 18,000 female Army nurses who helped care for nearly 8 million soldiers, Cameron worked to mitigate the carnage of war.

But beyond the amputations and disfigurement, it was the psychological damage she often found most vexing — a realization that has gained broad acceptance only in modern times as hundreds of thousands of service members serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts around the globe.

"The wounds you can’t see were harder to treat than the ones you can see," Cameron said Wednesday, just after celebrating her 100th birthday at Canterbury Tower retirement home where she has lived the past two decades. "You just felt an obligation to do what you saw needed to be done."

Martha Cameron was born Sept. 5, 1918, in Virginia at the height of World War I. The words don’t come easily these days, but thanks to a 2012 interview she did with Navy veteran Hobart Kistler and others, much of her story is preserved.

As a teen, she spent time caring for her mother, who suffered from breast cancer. That experience spurred her to become a nurse.

Early into her first job, at the Jersey City Medical Center in New Jersey, her life and the course of world events changed dramatically.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, she woke at the hospital to hear people talking about a raid on a faraway base called Pearl Harbor. The next morning, she signed up to become an Army nurse.

"It was sheer patriotism, really," she told Kistler.

Long before women were allowed to serve in combat roles, she and many others saw nursing as the fastest way to the front.

At the time, there were fewer than 1,000 nurses on the rolls, according to an official history of the Army Nurse Corps. Within six months, there were 12,000.

In July 1942, Cameron, then 23, traveled with her medical unit across the Atlantic to England. Initially, the workload was light and she found it a time of adventure.

"We had lots of dances, trips to London, Shakespearean plays, and really no scandals or startling stories to speak of," she told Kinstler.

That all changed within four months when Allied forces invaded North Africa.

The initial resistance was light, but as the Allies chased the Germans deeper into North Africa, the number of patients grew.

•••

On June 10, 1944, four days after the Normandy invasion, Cameron’s unit lined up to head to shore.

She was one of the first women in the combat zone.

"At one point, the beach-master, who was making the rounds of the ships in a little launch, came alongside us and exclaimed: ‘Jeez! Women!’ " Cameron told Kinstler. "That gave us some indication that we were about to be the first girls ashore in France."

As a nurse administering anesthesia, "You just felt an obligation to keep them free of pain," Cameron said in an interview.

She sat down to talk for a few minutes, after the speeches, the cake and the presentation of challenge coins that marked a birthday celebration attended by about two dozen people — friends, family members and military personnel from MacDill Air Force Base.

Among them was base commander and Air Force Col. Steve Snelson.

Cameron spent her 26th birthday in a newly liberated Paris. A few months later, in December 1944, she was treating troops during the Battle of the Bulge.

"I saw a lot of amputations," she said.

After the war, Cameron returned to service, this time with the new U.S. Air Force. She retired in the 1960s as a lieutenant colonel. She continued to serve as a civilian nurse, finally retiring in 1988.

Though she served decades before medical personnel fully understood post-traumatic stress, she understood the importance of treating unseen injuries — a realization memorialized in words now etched in glass at the American Veterans Disabled for Life memorial in Washington, D.C.

"The wounds one could see were often less severe than the psychological injuries they brought with them," her quote there reads. "My heart went out to each of them."

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

     
Comments
New play ‘Last Out’ encourages veterans to ease the pain of war by telling their stories

New play ‘Last Out’ encourages veterans to ease the pain of war by telling their stories

The Green Beret instructor moved up close to Danny Patton. "Out of 600 candidates, only a handful you will make the cut," he yelled in Patton’s ear. "This class represents an all-time low of the America gene pool!" Patton was about to respond...
Published: 11/09/18
Ian David Long: What we know about the California bar gunman

Ian David Long: What we know about the California bar gunman

Neighbors of Ian David Long described the man who shot and killed 12 people at a country music bar as distant in public but combative with his mother inside the suburban Los Angeles home the two share
Published: 11/09/18
Land O’ Lakes veteran finds new purpose in adaptive sports

Land O’ Lakes veteran finds new purpose in adaptive sports

Green Beret George Vera credits Warrior Games, Invictus Games for helping him get back to ‘normality.’
Published: 11/06/18
Number of homeless veterans in Tampa Bay dropping faster than nationwide

Number of homeless veterans in Tampa Bay dropping faster than nationwide

The number of homeless veterans in the Tampa Bay area is dropping, and at a faster rate than the national average, according to statistics released Thursday.Nationwide, the number of homeless veterans has dropped by 5.4 percent compared to last year,...
Published: 11/01/18
Townhall for new Riverview VA Clinic draws hundreds

Townhall for new Riverview VA Clinic draws hundreds

Calling it ‘SOHI,’ VA officials update veterans on the facility and sign up patients
Updated one month ago
Howard Altman: On invasion’s anniversary, those with much at stake in Afghanistan look back

Howard Altman: On invasion’s anniversary, those with much at stake in Afghanistan look back

In the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2001, Mark Nutsch and Robert Pennington were Green Berets assigned to ODA 595. They were stepping off a helicopter to meet with members of the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida. About ...
Updated one month ago
Hillsborough puts battlefield and court fights behind, dedicates new Civil War memorial

Hillsborough puts battlefield and court fights behind, dedicates new Civil War memorial

TAMPA — Efforts to mark America’s bloodiest conflict proved divisive as Hillsborough County made plans to erect a Civil War memorial.But the final result was dedicated Saturday morning in peace and solemnity, with a nod to those who fought for both t...
Updated one month ago
New USF institute cements ties with SOCom in pursuit of security innovations

New USF institute cements ties with SOCom in pursuit of security innovations

TAMPA — Inside a mesh cage at a University of South Florida engineering lab, ten small drones lift off and hover in unison, the sound of tiny blades whirring like a hive of angry hornets.They are part of the technology being developed here for hypers...
Updated one month ago
Nelson vows Tyndall Air Force Base will be rebuilt

Nelson vows Tyndall Air Force Base will be rebuilt

Sen. Bill Nelson, who toured Tyndall Air Force Base on Sunday morning and witnessed firsthand the destruction caused by Hurricane Michael, said he will recommend the base be rebuilt."The base is destroyed," Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times. He added t...
Updated one month ago