Edward Cain — Humble warrior; Faithful friend
It has been 50 years since Edward “Eddie” Cain was drafted into the U.S. Army. The son of a World War II veteran and the grandson of a veteran of the Spanish-American War, he followed in the footsteps of those who fought before him. The Sequatchie County native grew up on the family homeplace in Dunlap where the Cains have lived and raised their families since the early 1900s.
He was drafted on July 12, 1967, and was soon on a bus with his friend, Robert Turner, and a boy from Bledsoe County, Walter Kerley, headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic training.
At the end of basic training the longtime friends were split up by assignment: Cain to the infantry and Turner to artillery. “I was sent to Fort Pope, Louisiana, for nine weeks of jungle training before being sent to Oakland, California, and on to Vietnam,” said Cain.
“I was on the ground with the First Air Calvary,” he continued. “We were moved around by helicopters and dropped where we were needed — sometimes in the mountains, sometimes in bush so thick you couldn’t see where you were going. There were a lot of ambushes and a lot of patrol duty. It was a struggle all the time. We were out in the rain and mud, living outside with just a poncho for cover. We couldn’t get dry! You wouldn’t think it, but the boredom was one of the hardest things to overcome.
“While at Fort Pope, I made friends with a boy from Mississippi, Pfc. Ronnie Bateman. We ended up in the same unit and same squad in Vietnam. We spent a lot a lot of time telling stories about our hometowns and families and became as close as brothers. On March 9, 1968, we got caught in an ambush. Ronnie was walking point. He and the boy behind me, Ron Scanlon, were killed, and our CO (commanding officer) and lieutenant were wounded. Over the next few days there were several other casualties and many wounded.
“After everyone had been evacuated, I was told that Ronnie’s family had requested that I be the one to accompany his body back to Mississippi. Ronnie had been writing home about his new friend from Dunlap, and they wanted me to be the one to bring him home. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. But his family treated me like their own. My family and I have remained fast friends with the Bateman family ever since.”
“I was in Vietnam one year to the day from the day I arrived,” Cain said. “I still remember how unreal it seemed to be on patrol one night and a couple of nights later to be back in
Dunlap, eating supper with my family! It took some time to process being back and sleeping in a bed and not having to be on guard all the time.”
With a little time remaining on his two-year commitment, Cain was sent back to Fort Pope and put over the field platoon, training new recruits. “I was a drill sergeant, more or less,” he said.
After returning home, Cain received an associate degree at Roane State Community College — a pilot program with the Tennessee Valley Authority to become a crane operator. He worked as a heavy-equipment operator for TVA for about 13 or 14 years during the building of the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. When TVA began phasing out of the construction business and instead hiring contractors, Cain continued working through a contract company until retiring out of the local union in 2004.
However, Cain’s stint in Vietnam wasn’t the end of his Army career. In 1985, the Army National Guard established a combat engineering unit in Dunlap, and Cain and several of his friends enlisted, retaining their previous ranks. In 1990, during Operation Desert Storm, Cain’s unit, the 212th Combat Engineers, was called up. When they reached the desert, the unit was attached to the 101st Airborne Division.
In all, Cain spent two years on active duty from 1967 to 1969 and about 9 years in the National Guard from 1985 to 1995, receiving both a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for meritorious service in combat along with a Combat Infantry Badge, Air Assault medal and two Army commendations, one with a V for valor.
Cain is a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 203 in Chattanooga, one of the largest chapters in the nation. He says he doesn’t really do much volunteer work — that his wife, Charlotte, is the one who is involved in everything going on in the community. Charlotte, however, is quick to add that he is involved in everything she is but prefers to work quietly in the background. “I couldn’t get it all done without his help,” she said. The two married in 1975 and have two sons — Josh and Jordan, who own a successful building construction business — and four grandchildren they love spending time with.
We at Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative are happy to honor Edward Cain as our August Hometown Military Hero.