Having graduated from the Mercy Central School of Nursing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a confident twenty two year old by the name of Joy Lillie joined the US Army Nurse Corp.
After an uneventful tour on a hospital ship and a stint at home treating soldiers returning from war, Joy was sent to England to train with an Allied invasion force for what was to become one of the most important battles in WW2 history.
On June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, Allied forces launched an attack on a fifty mile stretch of Nazi occupied coast in Normandy, France. The area was divided into five sectors, with the US being responsible for two, code named Utah and Omaha. Despite a decisive Allied victory, Omaha saw the most casualties, and it was here Joy was sent, along with her nursing unit, to look for and treat wounded soldiers. Joy stayed awake for 72 hours straight to save as many soldiers as possible. For this she was awarded the Bronze Star, a medal given for heroic and praiseworthy service in a combat zone.
Throughout the rest of the war Joy and her unit saw the front lines of every major Allied campaign in Europe during WWII. In addition to Normandy, Joy was deployed at Northern France, Battle of the Bulge, Central Europe, and Rhineland.
At each site of battle, Joy had to stay as close to the front lines as possible, and when soldiers inched forward, so did her unit. One time, when Joy and her unit got too close to the fighting, they had to hide in a ditch for twelve hours until the bullets stopped flying.
“We got used to the sound of the airplanes, the bombs, the fighting” Joy said. “I was brave in those days.”
Joy spent two years as a military nurse overseas and close to a year serving in military hospitals in the US. She earned the rank of first lieutenant and, in addition to the Bronze Star, received the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, the Normandy Campaign Medal, and the Honorable Service Lapel Button awarded for honorable discharge during WW2.
After finishing her service with the Army, Joy raised ten children, and after seventeen years at home, took a refresher course in nursing and went back to work. She continued working as a nurse for twenty years until her retirement.
Reflecting on her decision to enlist in the Nurse Corp, Joy said, “It was something I wanted to do, I just wanted to do something helpful.”