Deborah Nance. Dan Watson/The Signal

Deborah Nance — U.S. Army — Vietnam War-era — Newhall resident

Deborah Nance, who answers to “Dee,” describes her mother as the “grandmother” type.

“Her funeral was filled with nieces, nephews, grandkids, friends,” Nance said. “They talked about how she was their grandmother, even if it wasn’t by blood.”

Nance grew up watching her mother, the only girl of 11 children, take care of her brothers. As a child, Nance recalls going to Illinois, where her mother was from, various times to bring home a sick uncle. “So when my mom passed, then I became the ‘grandmother.’”

Early Life

Nance was born Aug. 7, 1956, to Patience Elizabeth and Raymond Oliver Nance in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother was 44, and her father was 61.

“I don’t know what he was thinking,” she said, laughing.

Nance was the youngest of three, born on her oldest sister’s 25th birthday.

Her mother was a typical Illinois woman who taught her to say “Yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.”

“I put my parents through so much,” she said. “I wasn’t a bad kid — I would just do stupid, mischievous stuff.”

Her family lived above the confectionary store her mother owned until Nance was 10. That’s when her mother had a heart attack.

“They thought she was going to die, so they shipped me to live with my oldest sister in California,” Nance said. “Then she got better, and they ended up coming out. My sister got them an apartment right up the street.”

Deborah Nance – 1975

Military Life

Her father, who was a cook in the Army during World War I, died when Nance was 17. She was a waitress at Denny’s at the time, and everyone kept telling her how sorry they were.

“Back in those days, everyone knew the waitress,” Nance said. “So I told my friend, ‘If one more person comes in and tells me that they’re sorry about my daddy, I’m joining the Army.’”

Not even 10 minutes later, it happened again, so, true to her word, she signed up for the service. “The day after my 18th birthday, they came and picked me up.”

She was sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for basic training, where she learned about the “rough stuff.”

“That’s when you’re crawling in dirt and acting like there’s a war,” Nance said.

Then, she went to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, for advanced individual training, which is when she found out she had chosen a position that entailed overseas duty.

“The recruiter didn’t tell me that a post office (assignment) is overseas duty only because civilians work the post office in the states,” Nance said. “They give you a piece of paper and tell you to pick out what you want to do.”

Infantry? Nope. Artillery? Nu-uh. Mechanic? No way. Post office? “That’s OK.” When she got her orders, she was hoping for Italy. Instead, she got Germany.

“I thought, ‘Am I reading this? Germany?’ I was only 19 years old,” she said.

Nance with her mother at LAX as she was leaving for Germany in 1975. Courtesy of Dee Nance

It didn’t take her long after arriving in Germany to meet someone — a fellow soldier.

“Lo and behold, I got married and he started beating the crap out of me,” Nance said. “He used to do crazy stuff to me. But I didn’t want to tell my mother because she had just lost the man that she had been with for 50 years. And what could she do? I was in Germany.”

This continued until her neighbor, a German lady, knocked on her door after her husband had left for work one day. She only spoke a little English, but told Nance, “No more, no more.”

“And that kinda got the ball to rolling, and I got help,” she said. “The military got involved and helped me change my MOS so that I could get out of Germany. At that point, when you are an abused wife, you just want a way out — you aren’t thinking — and whatever it is, you’ll take it.”

Nance was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to work as a legal clerk. Not even two months later, she found out she was three months’ pregnant.

Because she wasn’t divorced, she felt obligated to tell her husband, and he immediately changed his MOS and followed her to Fort Sill.

In June 1977, with only two months left in her enlistment, Nance had a baby girl.

“He kidnapped my daughter when she was a month old,” Nance said.

Nance and her roommates drove from Lawton, Oklahoma, to San Antonio, Texas, to rescue her daughter.

“I brought my daughter to my mom in California until I got out,” she said. “I wasn’t going to re-enlist after that.”

On Aug. 9, 1977, Nance was honorably discharged as an E-5 sergeant.

Nance working during her time with the National Guard after her enlistment in the early 1980s. Courtesy of Dee Nance

After the military

It was only when she got back to California after her enlistment that she was able to get a divorce, but she “never looked back” after she got her daughter back.

Meanwhile, throughout her enlistment, Nance had been sending her mother nearly all of her paycheck, minus $100 for living expenses.

“She never spent a dime of all that money I sent her — I was shocked,” Nance said. “So then when I came home, she had all that money saved up.”

It was enough for a down payment, so Nance and her mother bought a house in Lake View Terrace.

Nance got a job at the post office and joined the National Guard, where she continued serving as a legal clerk for one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer.

She continued with the Guard for eight years and completed her time in the military in August 1985 as a staff sergeant.

Nance riding in mail truck in Germany in 1975. Courtesy of Dee Nance

Eventually she remarried, an older man this time, but shortly into their marriage, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I didn’t have anybody to help me take care of him, and I was taking care of my mother and my kid,” Nance said. “So I retired from the post office after 16 years.”

After battling the cancer for a year, her second husband died. They had been married for six years, but he had never updated the insurance paperwork. “So, when he died, his wife that he hadn’t been with in 20-some years got everything,” she said. “That’s when I had to get away.”

Nance moved into a mobile home park in Castaic, where she decided to go into her third career, nursing. “Everyone told me I should be a nurse because I took care of him and my mom.”

She began working for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in 1997. Since then, she has worked every unit at the hospital and won awards for excellent service and the American Red Cross Hero award. She was also the chief union steward for 14 years.

“I just really like my job,” Nance said. “I get along with everybody. If I go into a patient’s room, and it’s dirty, I’m going to clean it up. If that patient needs to go to the bathroom, I’m not going to call the (nursing assistant). I’m going to take them to the bathroom. We’re all nurses, we’re all supposed to take care of these patients, and that’s what I do.”

In September 2008, after Nance turned 54, she had a heart attack.

“My mom had her heart attack at 54, and both my sisters had passed away at 54,” Nance said. “So here I am at 54: In my head, I was thinking, ‘This is it.’”

When she felt the symptoms of a heart attack, her nursing kicked in and told her to take an aspirin to thin her blood, which is ultimately what saved her life.

Nance then decided to transfer from the medical floor to the psychiatric ward, thinking it would be less strenuous.

“They have takedowns every day,” she said, laughing. “Every psych nurse has been attacked — it’s part of the job. I’ve seen it all.”

Nance takes pride in being the nurse who sits and talks to her patients, which she believes makes a big difference.

In 2016, she went back to school to get her associate’s degree in nursing at College of the Canyons, which is what led her to discover the Veteran Enriched Neighborhood being built here in Santa Clarita.

She had been living in her mobile home for 20 years, when her son, Chris, saw an ad for the veteran community. She didn’t believe she would qualify for the house, but her son told her to “leap out on faith.”

“So I did, and I got qualified for it,” Nance said. “I’m truly, truly blessed.”

Through the Homes 4 Families program, Nance was sent to UCLA for post traumatic stress therapy, which is required of all applicants.

“All of a sudden, I’m crying like a baby,” she said. “If you would have asked me if I had PTSD, I would’ve said ‘no.’ I wasn’t really in a war. I was stationed in Germany, and I’m a Vietnam-era veteran, but there wasn’t a war (there). Yet, I ended up having PTSD from the physical abuse of my first marriage.”

Nance went through the entire PTSD program and she appreciates Homes 4 Families for it.

“I didn’t know I was carrying that 40 years later — it was just bottled up in there,” she said.

Dan Watson/The Signal

Although Nance hasn’t had an easy life, she still says it’s a good one. Now, she is a mother of two and grandmother to two granddaughters, and her mother’s influence still resonates.

“My momma always told me to treat people the way you want to be treated,” she said. “I raised my kids the same way, and my daughter raised my granddaughters the same way.”

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