This Veterans Day, UMRC & Porter Hills salutes its many veterans, including 100-year-old Ann Cameron who served as an Army nurse during WWII.
Ann Paglia was born in 1920, the 4th of six children of Sicilian immigrants who had moved to the Boston area in the early 1900s. According to Ann’s oldest daughter, Joan Skolimowski, Ann’s parents carried the gene for Cooley’s anemia which affected three of Ann’s siblings, including two sisters and a brother who died at the age of 11. When her second sister was diagnosed, Ann visited a doctor at Harvard who studied blood diseases. “He was researching the effects of folic acid on this disease which he shared with my mom,” says Joan. “Thanks to the treatment, her sister survived the disease.”
In turn, it led to Ann’s fascination with medicine and the body, and she decided to become a nurse. “Her father was absolutely against it and wouldn’t give her the money to go to nursing school,” says Joan. “But Ann was strong-willed and asked her mom for the money.” She began her nurse’s training at age 17 and graduated as a registered nurse three years later from Boston City Hospital School of Nursing.
In 1942, Ann decided to join the Army as a nurse in World War II. Again, her father was against it, but Ann was determined to do her patriotic duty. “She was 125% American,” says Joan of her mother. “She wanted to break out of the Sicilian mold.”
Ann was assigned to Army Airfield Headquarters in Presque Isle, Maine. Its mission was to fly men, supplies, and equipment to Great Britain for the war efforts in Europe. At the height of base activity during World War II, more aircraft flights flew from Presque Isle to Europe than from any other American base (basehttps://www.mainememory.net/artifact/16665).
While there, Ann made friends with a woman from Oklahoma. Her son, Miller Cameron, who was also in the Army, came for a visit, and Ann answered the door. They went out and, on their third date, Miller asked Ann to marry him. Joan says, “My mom’s father said, ‘Ann is crazy! She’s lost her mind.’ But Mom has a personality that couldn’t be put down.” The couple married in 1943.
Miller was training to be part of the Normandy invasion in 1944; however, he contracted rheumatic fever so couldn’t stay in the Army. He completed his college degree in civil and mechanical engineering which he had started prior to joining the military. He got a job working at MIT’s Lab 23 which invented special radar for tracking planes. Later, Miller also worked on the rocket fuel project for NASA.
Ann and Miller had four children and a really good life together, says Joan, although they moved a lot with their dad’s work. When Joan was 12, they moved to Connecticut and her mom said, “I’m not moving again.” A lover of people, Ann was very involved in her church and community. She continued to work part-time as a nurse in the local VA Hospital and was always active in supporting veterans. “She was always very compassionate toward those who served in the military,” says Joan.
The couple’s fifth child was born when Joan was a senior in college. “Christopher really kept Mom young,” says Joan. In 2011, he developed a glioblastoma tumor and passed away. “It was a terrible blow to my parents,” says Joan. At that time, Ann also began to have symptoms of dementia. Joan and her sister, Suzanne, who were living in Michigan at this time, discovered UMRC. “We knew we had found the right place,” says Joan. “Dancey House (independent living) was so stimulating for Dad.”
When the time came to move to Assisted Living, Miller moved with Ann. He passed away in 2015.
Ann recently celebrated her 100th birthday. Joan attributes Ann’s long life to being a nurse and her avid interest in medicine. “She’s so smart, and she always makes sure to exercise and take vitamin supplements! She also insists on using her face creams!”
Although COVID-19 kept her family from being there in person to celebrate her milestone birthday, they arranged for a party for their mom along with the Assisted Living Life Enrichment team at Glazier Commons. “We can’t say enough about the whole facility,” says Joan. “I’ve never seen anything as great as UMRC! It gets an A plus, plus, plus!”