Stevens recalls 34 years of service as a miltary nurse

Union Leader Correspondent
November 09. 2012 7:48PM

In this undated photo provided by family members, a young Lillian Stevens wore her uniform proudly. (Courtesy)
WINDHAM - As a little girl, growing up in Derry in the 1920s, Lillian Stevens dreamed of becoming a nurse, just like her older sister, Ena.

"My sister was a very good example for me," the Windham Terrace Assisted Living resident explained. "I wanted to be just like her."

That strong desire to serve others would lead Stevens to places she never imagined.

After graduating from St. George's High School in Manchester in 1935, Stevens, one of six children, continued her studies at the Notre Dame Hospital Training School for Nurses. Stevens worked in several area hospitals as well as a private duty nurse afterwards, according to her niece, Judy Newcomb.

When World War II broke out, and Stevens learned of the strong need for trained nurses, she didn't hesitate to answer the call.

"Everyone was going," she recalled. "I wanted to go along, too."

Looking for "adventure ... and maybe a man," the young nurse soon found herself in hospitals at Camp Edwards and Fort Dix, where she worked as a general duty nurse for 16 months. Afer her stateside stint, she served for 14 months in a general hospital unit in England at the height of the war. Stationed near the staging point of the Normandy invasion, Stevens tended to countless broken bodies and minds.

"I wasn't nervous about it," recalled Stevens, 95. "I was young and stupid then, I guess."

Ever humble about her role in American history, she added, "I was just a nurse. I felt I could offer whatever I had. It was difficult to see the boys suffer, but it was rewarding to nurse the guys who needed help."

During her career in the military, Stevens earned both American Theater and European Theater ribbons, received a signed letter of thanks from President Harry Truman and worked her way up the ranks in the Army Reserves. After 34 years of service, she retired as a Lt. Colonel.

As a young women serving overseas, things weren't always easy for her. "There were very few of us," Stevens said. "But (the women) did all the work."

She also remembered Army nurses were supposed to pause and salute American soldiers whenever they'd pass: something Stevens always took issue with.

"I didn't like it," she said. "So I'd cross the street: that way I wouldn't have to salute them."

After the war ended, Stevens found herself back in the United States and spent most of her adult life in Florida and New Hampshire. In 1953 she married fellow serviceman John McNeice, but was widowed a year later. Following the death of her second husband, James Stevens in 1999, she returned to the Granite State, settling in Londonderry.

Asked for the secret to living a long and productive life, Newcomb said her aunt's philosophy has always been to keep her focus on the good.

"She keeps a positive attitude and she enjoys sunshine," Newcomb said. "And, she's never met a dessert that she doesn't like."

As another Veterans Day approaches, Stevens, who doesn't see or hear well these days, but retains her sharp wit, said, "it's always good to remember."

"There seems to be fewer girls interested in becoming nurses today," she added. "But I would tell them to definitely think about it."

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