Veterans Day: A soldier turned nurse to speak at ceremony
“I was really fortunate to serve at the time I did, a relatively peaceful time in the world — a good experience,” said Lynn E. Isaac, a former U.S. Army captain who served as a communications platoon leader for a seven-battery forward-deployed Patriot ground-to-air missile battalion, was a nuclear, biological and chemical defense readiness officer, and helped organize joint U.S. and French ceremonies featuring Presidents Bill Clinton and Francois Mitterrand on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.
Capt. Isaac, who has also served in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan and is now a nurse at Norwalk Hospital in medical oncology, will be the featured speaker at this year’s Veterans Day observances.
“My dad was a veteran,” Captain Isaac said. “He served in World War II in the Army Air Corps.”
The Veterans Day ceremony is Saturday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. at the Community Center’s Lounsbury House on Main Street. Ridgefield’s American Legion, Marine Corps League and Veterans of Foreign Wars organize the event to honor America’s 21.7 million veterans.
The ceremony will include patriotic songs from vocalist Evelyn Carr, readings by veterans and local officials, and an address by Isaac. Cub Scout Pack 74 will assist in the laying of a wreath on the memorial monument in front of Lounsbury House, followed by military honors and playing of taps. Afterward, refreshments will be provided by the Friends of the American Legion.
“All are invited to attend this ceremony as a tribute to our veterans for their service,” said Commander George Besse of Ridgefield’s Everett Ray Seymour American Legion Post 78.
Runs in the family
Isaac grew up with two brothers and her sister in Bergenfield, N.J. They didn’t hear much about their father’s military experiences.
“He didn’t really talk a lot about it,” she said. “It wasn’t until high school that we learned about his service.”
Her father flew 40 combat missions in the 345th bomb group, the Air Apaches, in a B-25 bomber in the Pacific.
“They flew super low, 50 to 100 feet off the ground, performing strafing and skip-bombing runs,” she said.
“It was a high attrition position. I think the average life of your Air Apache’s crew was about four months — they got shot down.”
She wanted to serve.
“I was nominated to West Point, but wasn’t appointed to attend.”
She went to Fordham on an ROTC scholarship, earning a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature.
“I was commissioned right after graduation,” she said.
Isaac served from 1991 to 1996, in the U.S. and overseas, including time as a communications platoon leader with a seven battery, forward deployed Patriot Air Defense Artillery Battalion.
For about six months, Isaac was a special project officer and translator for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day commemorative ceremonies in Normandy.
Her French studies proved helpful, as she served as a “contact and liaison for high-level U.S. and French dignitaries and organizations” and “acted as a translator as needed” while training 400 U.S. personnel in French language and culture.
“It was an amazing experience. It’s one of the most memorable things I’ve done while serving,” she said.
She worked coordinating joint U.S. and French ceremonies at Utah Beach, where French President Mitterrand and President Clinton joined in the commemorations that were part a much larger D-Day celebration.
“This was a huge, huge operation. There were commemorations that happened all along the coast of Normandy,” she said. “We were just Utah Beach.”
Americans may have had trying relationships with the proud French at times, but remembering D-Day — beginning the liberation of France from German occupation — the feelings of the two old allies were all positive.
“You could not have had a more warm welcome from everyone in Normandy,” Isaac said.
And there were the vets, returning.
“By the 50th anniversary, they’re in their 70s, sometimes 80s, coming back to Normandy and experiencing this outpouring of welcoming and support,” she said.
She recalled visiting the Normandy site Pointe du Hoc later with her father, the decorated B-52 crew member. He was awed by the cliffs Army Rangers had fought their way up on D-Day, to take a key German battery overlooking the channel.
“Here’s my dad, this brave man who survived all these missions. He looked at this site and said, ‘I don’t think I could have done that, what these guys did’ — which is kind of the attitude of a lot of the veterans: Somebody always had it worse off than you did. They did what they did, but they didn’t brag about what they did: Somebody always sacrificed more than you did.”
Her service wasn’t all glamor duties, however.
Isaac was an “NBC officer” — trained in “nuclear, biological and chemical” defense — and also served her Patriot missile battery as communications, or “signal,” officer, “providing satellite UHF connectivity, electronic communications between the battery and headquarters.”
These duties took her to Germany and also Saudi Arabia.
“The Patriot battalion I was assigned to did a six-month rotation in Saudi Arabia — this was after the conclusion of the Gulf war,” said Isaac, who has been awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal, the Airborne (Parachutist) Qualification Award, and the Bronze German Marksmanship Award.
“As NBC officer of the unit, you’d be responsible for assuring they had NBC equipment— gas masks, making sure everything’s up to snuff, serviceable and ready, in case of need. Also, being prepared with chemical decontamination agents in the event chemical weapons had been used … training soldiers in basic administration of nerve-agent antidotes.
“We’d also be responsible for plotting contamination areas in the event of chemical, biological nuclear warfare — plotting fallout and contamination areas,” she said.
After the military Isaac joined the Peace Corps and went to Uzbekistan, with her husband.
“We’ve known each other since we were eight or nine or 10. We always talked about going in the Peace Corps together,” she said.
“Uzbekistan — when you found out where you were going, you had to look it up,” she said.
“They were newly independent from the Soviet Union … You’d meet citizens of Uzbekistan, and you were definitely the first American they’d met.”
Isaac taught at Andijan State Pedagogical University, training future teachers.
“They’d invite you to their home, it was a big honor — definitely a worthwhile experience,” she said.
“They were all very curious about the U.S. because a lot of what they knew came from whatever popular culture they had access to, pre-internet, so it usually was movies and music.
“It was a great experience, getting to know a completely different culture,” she said.
“You definitely come back from an experience like that grateful for where you grew up.”
Isaac has lived in Ridgefield 10 years. She and her husband, David Isaac, have three children: Sarah, Joseph and Andrew.
She studied nursing after her youngest child went to kindergarten.
“My mother was a nurse,” she said.
It’s what she wanted to be, growing. So, even though she had two degrees in French culture and language — after the Peace Corps she’d gotten Master's at Columbia — she went back and graduated with honors from Fairfield University’s Egan School of Nursing in 2016.
“I would say the process of both raising my own family, as well as going through end-of-life issues with my mom, who struggled with cancer, really re-ignited the interest in me.”