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He left his heart in Belle Vernon

| Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011

Robert "Bob" Cain has been around the world and back many times, but his heart will always remain in Belle Vernon.

Cain, 59, a 1970 graduate of Belle Vernon Area High School, is a decorated, two-time veteran, husband, writer, artist and musician whose passion has always been helping others.

A longtime resident of Tampa, Fla., Cain is the son of the late Joan and Ralph Cain. He has "great" memories of growing up on May Street, off of Fayette Avenue, with his twin brother, Ralph, sister Cathy and younger brother Lionel.

"I call those days the hillside of my youth," Cain said. "Growing up there was the most perfect environment for a kid. Every day we'd grab our bats and balls and chalk for the road and have the time of our lives."

He even penned a novel about his old stomping grounds, called "The Market Street Chronicle," a fictional account of horrors going on in an apartment building.

Cain calls his twin, Ralph, his "best friend and hero." His brother graduated from BVA in 1971, as he had to stay behind a year after getting hit by a car in a near-fatal accident in lower Speers when they were in first grade.

"I can still remember that day. I had to go in and tell my mom," Cain said.

His brother recovered and is now pastor at the Glenmore United Methodist Church near Philadelphia. His sister lives in Tarpon Springs, Fla., and Lionel lives in Fayette City.

"We picked apples from the orchards and watched when the cows would wander into our yards," he said of his childhood.

Cain credits his paternal grandmother, the late Ella Cain, with teaching him how to play piano, cook and write.

He said his grandmother, who lived on Main Street in Belle Vernon, was a close friend of the late Isabelle Hurley, a longtime writer at The Valley Independent.

"My grandmother was a town historian and Isabelle would often call her for information," he said.

Thanks to "wonderful" teachers such as Marilyn Mori, who taught him typing in high school, and his third-grade teacher Helen Lang, Cain was selected after high school to join FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's staff at his offices in Washington, D.C.

"I was gifted in the business program, which helped me tremendously," he said. At the FBI, he first worked filing documents, then moved up to handling classified information.

He spent nine months working at the FBI offices when he was offered a job with Dun and Bradstreet Inc., in Georgetown. The company handled credit ratings for multi-million dollar businesses.

"I was just 19 and working at this amazing place," he said.

Like many other young men, Cain was drafted in 1972 to serve in the Vietnam War. He and his twin brother, who was also drafted, decided to join the U.S. Navy.

He attended boot camp in Orlando, Fla., and made the rank of a yeoman, known as the oldest rating in the navy. Yeomen perform secretarial and clerical work. He went on to earn the rank of E-4 and served on the Chief of Naval Information staff at Great Lakes, Ill. He was also stationed on the USS America out of Norfolk, Va. In between assignments, he also worked on special projects in Washington, D.C.

"My team of 14, who were under me, converted all of the navy paper records to microfiche. It was an incredible job for which I was second runner up for navy Sailor of the Year in Washington," he said.

Cain says one of his most important jobs during the Vietnam War was greeting prisoners of war when they returned to U.S. soil.

"I'd follow them to the hospital, listen to their stories and call the local newspapers to get them recognition," Cain said. All these years later, Cain still gets emotional talking about the time he spent with the Vietnam veterans.

His work didn't go unrecognized, as former President Richard M. Nixon sent him a letter of recognition for his service.

After the war, his military career took him on a whirlwind tour around the world.

He met Pope Paul VI in Rome, spent time in Rio de Janeiro, and traveled extensively throughout Europe.

He decided to leave the navy in 1978, went home and enrolled in college. He attended California University of Pennsylvania from 1979 to 1982, studying both English and computer management.

While at Cal U, he played music with famous poet Allen Ginsberg and helped revamp the veterans office while a work study student under Arthur Bakewell.

Cain was close to graduating in 1982, with 90 credits, when he learned he was in danger of losing his rank as an E-5 petty officer.

"It was very important to me to keep my rank, so I re-enlisted," he said.

His first assignment was at the Naval Base in San Diego, Calif., which handles fleets all over the Pacific Ocean.

During his time with the navy, he traveled to 90 countries and went to Hawaii 14 times.

In 1986, he was offered an assignment with Operation Deep Freeze with the National Science Foundation. He was stationed in New Zealand. Operation Deep Freeze was code name for a series of missions to Antarctica. While in New Zealand, he worked with "top notch officers." He traveled through Antarctica and Australia and studied Haley's Comet at 36,000-feet.

"To get to do that was a great honor," he said.

In 1988, he was sent to Tampa to serve at U.S. Central Command under Gen. Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf. Known as "Stormin' Norman," the retired general was commander of the Coalition Forces in the Gulf War in 1991. Cain worked at the Joint Logistics Operations Center at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. He was also second runner-up for Tampa Bay sailor of the year.

He was awarded the Joint Meritorious Service Medal from Schwarzkopf and was a recipient of the Kuwaiti Freedom Medal.

It was at the MacDill Air Force Base where he met his future wife, Martha S. Kurtz, a McKeesport native. When they met, she was with the U.S. Army, working as a graphic combat illustrator. She was stationed with the Special Forces at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Cain proudly notes his wife completed boot camp with a broken arm. She also received the Kuwait Freedom Medal.

His wife is the daughter of the late Robert and Ethel D. Rogers Kurtz. Her father was a longtime executive at The Daily News in McKeesport.

Six months after they began dating, they were shopping when he noticed they were each stocking their carts with the same items. With a rainbow in the background, he proposed.

Cain says their wedding day was also celebrated under a rainbow.

After his assignment in Tampa ended, he spent time in Newport, R.I., and on the USS Deyo in Charleston, S.C.

It was when his wife's mother became ill Cain and his wife decided they needed to leave the military to take care of her full-time. They received honorable discharges from the military in 1992. Cain had 17 years of service; his wife 18 years.

Cain re-entered the corporate world, working at various companies over the years. He returned to Dun and Bradstreet and worked in the Tampa office as an assistant reporter; an administrative secretary with the office of the Attorney General, Tampa Civil Litigation, and as a universal representative with the Home Shopping Network.

He is currently working as an account relationship manager at a nationally-known bank in Tampa. Cain says he is proud to help people avoid losing their homes due to foreclosure.

When he looks back at all of his accomplishments, Cain credits his roots in Belle Vernon.

"I owe everything to Belle Vernon and my school," he said.

Cain says when he isn't working, he loves writing poems and music. He has 109 compositions registered at the Library of Congress. He has won awards for his watercolor paintings and is known in the area for his calligraphy skills.

He and his wife live with their five Corgi dogs and two cats.

Cain says he is hoping to move back to his hometown to complete his autobiography, fittingly called, "The Hillside of My Youth."

"I want to watch the sky for rainbows and I want to remember the smell of the old blast furnaces and coal furnaces."

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