MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
More than 16 million Americans served in World War II, which means there are more than 16 million stories of honor, sacrifice and service.
One of those patriotic stories is about how Ms. Martha Cameron volunteered to serve her country when her country needed her the most.
Born on September 5, 1918, Cameron is the last surviving member of the 128th Evacuation Hospital and now resides in Tampa near MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
As a special thanks for her service, the 6th Air Mobility Wing commander, Col. Stephen Snelson and other military leaders from both the United States Air Force and French Army surprised Cameron for her 100th birthday at her residence with family and friends.
“Ms. Cameron’s service to our country and her heroic actions during World War II and throughout her career speak for themselves, it is an honor to be here and celebrate her 100th birthday,” said Snelson.
When she was just 13 years old, Cameron’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and after many months of battling with treatments and surgeries, she unfortunately passed away.
“I had to administer her morphine shots,” said Cameron. “I remember she told me that ‘you ought to be a nurse, Marty’ and that was all I ever considered doing after that.”
Between 1936 and 1941, Cameron was accepted into Jersey City Medical Center to become a nurse and on December 7, 1941, only six months after graduating, Cameron found her calling to military service.
“I remember one morning, waking up to conversations in the hallway that there had been a raid on Pearl Harbor,” said Cameron. “The next day, I went and found out where I could sign up to become an Army nurse.”
Cameron didn’t want to be far from the action and volunteered to serve overseas, which led her to being a part of the largest successful seaborne invasion in American history.
“On D-Day, we were packed up and marched down to the train station,” said Cameron. “I was offered chicken or steak, the same meal that the boys who had eaten only a few hours before that were now probably dead on the beach.”
Cameron added that was the moment it truly struck her; she was going to war.
“To think of all those dead boys, I didn’t have much appetite for chicken or steak after that,” said Cameron.
From the train, she boarded the SS William N. Pendleton, which was “among a sea of ships under an umbrella of airpower,” said Cameron.
Cameron’s ship was under an enemy air raid en-route to Normandy and she was explicitly instructed to abandon ship if necessary.
Fortunately, the SS William N. Pendleton didn’t take any direct hits, but upon arriving, she saw the real damage of war.
“I came face-to-face with a dead soldier, among many others who were wounded and awaiting treatment,” said Cameron.
Cameron mentioned that the work was very demanding and sometimes, it meant 12 to 18 hour days without any breaks. The worst part was when the 128th Evacuation Hospital would lose a soldier.
“I remember very well my first patient in France,” said Cameron. “I began working on him, and he vomited and died, choking on his own vomit.”
By mid-August 1944, the Allies made considerable progress inland into Nazi-controlled territory, but the further she went inland, the more gruesome the war became.
On Christmas of 1944, Cameron remembered, “I walked into the hospital and saw eight stumps [of recently amputated limps] up on the blocks and many more waiting for surgery.”
This was during the peak of the Battle of the Bulge, which was when the U.S. suffered the most casualties in the midst of the last Nazi Germany offensive.
After the Battle of the Bulge ended in late January of 1945, it also signified Cameron’s commitment being fulfilled on her overseas tour.
However, two years after the war was over, Cameron’s service wasn’t done as she decided to join the newly-independent Air Force with her Army rank of Captain. Her military service became her career, finally retiring in the 1960s with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
At the time of retirement, she was one of the Air Force’s most senior nurses.
After her military service concluded, she continued her work as a nurse anesthetist and became a nurse practitioner before retiring from civilian nursing in 1988.
“What stands out the most is Ms. Cameron's dedication to serving others – whether helping her nation or community, she always gave back," said Snelson. "She embodies the values of the Air Force we still embrace today."
In looking back on her 20 years of service, Cameron fondly remembers her experience: “I have no regrets whatsoever, it was a privilege to serve and I had an excellent time in doing so.”