Fairview Veteran was a Nurse During Vietnam War

Fairview Veteran was a Nurse During Vietnam War

Fairview resident, Charla Cain is the daughter of a career Marine as well as the ancestor of multiple generations of military relatives and Alexander Hamilton. She said, “I was raised thinking everyone went into the military.”  She enlisted into the Navy in 1966, during the Vietnam War. She was 20 years old and had just earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Baylor University.

When she said she was going to enlist, she received mixed reviews from her parents. Her father was ecstatic, but her mother was nervous and didn’t want her to be sent to Vietnam. Cain said, “As it worked out, I didn’t.” She was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Base and Hospital in Chicago and never sent overseas.

Charla Cain while stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Base and Hospital in 1968.

Charla Cain while stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Base and Hospital in 1968.

She said they received injured soldiers from Vietnam within 72 hours of being injured. They would receive notification that the Air Vac (medical evacuation plane) was coming and would set up triage in the parking lot. She said, “It was nothing to get 50 or so patients a day. All were severely infected and/or injured.” She said most of the injuries were infected in the field. She can vividly see the injuries in her memories, “You don’t see injuries like that in a civilian hospital.”

All registered nurses were charge nurses and supervised corps men who had approximately 15 weeks of training. During the day shift, the nurses were responsible for a 50 bed ward, evening shift increased to two 50 bed wards, and night shift would increase to four 50 bed wards. They worked eight hour rotating shifts. There were 12 beds in each row and two private rooms reserved for dying soldiers. Cain said, “When you were responsible for a 50 bed ward, you assisted with whatever was needed.” Some of her responsibilities included doing rounds with the doctors, dispensing all narcotics and changing wound dressings every four to six hours. She said, “Many of the patients had Napalm in their wounds.” She said to this day she can smell the soldiers’ burned flesh and, because of this experience, could never work in a burn unit after leaving the military.

She said the soldiers were thankful to be home and alive. She said they were very frustrated with the reception they received when returning to America in that they weren’t seen as heroes. While in Vietnam, they saw media coverage that showed them what they could expect when returning home. Cain feels that actress and activist Jane Fonda had much to do with the negative attitude expressed to the returning soldiers and, to this day, Cain will not see any movies that include Fonda. Cain sees the faces of all the soldiers she treated, which fuels her principal based boycott.

During her time in the military, Cain feels her biggest contribution was providing competent and caring medical treatment to our country’s servicemen. She said she learned how to make good use of her time and assume large amounts of responsibility. She feels her military experience shaped her life in that it made her a better person. She said, “I appreciate what freedom is, what our military has been willing to do to ensure this freedom. My family has always believed in freedom and fighting for it.”

If given the opportunity to turn back time, Cain would join the military again, she said, “I wouldn’t even think twice. I love the United States. I believe in our country and support our President, especially Trump. I will do all I can to make America a great nation.”

She only stayed in the military for four years. She said she would have stayed longer if allowed, but at that time one had to take a medical discharge when pregnant.

After her time in the military, she served in the nursing field for 45 years. She was a charge nurse, psychiatric nurse, maternity care nurse, occupational health nurse, teacher of nurses and director of nursing. She said she considers it to be an honor that she was the director of nursing at Ephraim McDowell Memorial Hospital (currently known as Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center) in Danville, Kentucky when the Hill Burton Act came into law which integrated the hospital, both the nursing staff and patient rooms.  

Fairview Mayor Darion Culbertson declared June 12 as Women Veterans Day in Fairview.

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