Red, white … and the Navy blues! Nurse Julie Arany, a former Hungarian refugee, hated all men in uniform after the Communists killed her parents and forced her to flee from her home. But at Annapolis, a courageous young midshipman taught Nurse Julie the difference between Navy Blue and Communist “Red”—and handsome Dr. Warren Stone taught her the meaning of love.
“‘And,’ she laughed nervously, ‘I outrank him. That’ll keep him in his place.’”
“An answer to an age-old problem. If only all girls who were looking for husbands could know what she’d just discovered: all it takes to get a proposal of marriage is a deep conviction that you don’t want to get married.”
“Without problems, how could anyone grow up?”
One of the more interesting features of Annapolis Nurse is that its heroine, Julie Arany, is a native Hungarian who was living in Budapest during World War II, first under German occupation and then the Russian “liberators,” who apparently weren’t much better—they would force local young women to “go out at night” with them. Eventually her family decided to try to flee the country, which unfortunately resulted in the death of both of her parents. Her grandmother Ilona and brother Peter did manage to escape to the United States—back when our country was meeting refugees with open arms instead of tear gas—ultimately becoming citizens.
Her war experience, not too surprisingly, left Julie with a bitter hatred of soldiers. The real mystery of the book is why Julie, who reminds us again and again of how much “she feared and hated all men in uniform,” enlisted in the Navy to become a nurse. Her ostensible reason is that she’s worried about her younger brother, who will be drafted as soon as he turns 18. Her bizarre thinking is that if she’s in the military, then Peter will not be called—although she has absolutely no evidence that this might be the case and never bothered to find out before she signed up for a two-year stint caring for people who instinctively horrify her.
Stationed at a hospital in Florida before the book’s open, Julie had cared for a Naval Academy midshipman Tim Cooper, who was badly burned pulling another man from a plane crash. In hospital johnnies sailors apparently do not trigger Julie’s PTSD, so she manages to fall for Tim, and had gone so far as to transfer to the naval hospital in Annapolis so she can check up on him and make sure he is completely healed. Seeing Tim in uniform, however, she tries to give him the cold freeze, but this proves difficult given that she’d already accepted a date with him to the Academy Ring Dance, where she has a huge lapse and kisses him a lot, ultimately deciding she’s in love. Once the dance is over, however, she goes back to being cold and nasty and dating a hospital doctor who offers a plethora of alarming stalker lines like, “You happen to be my private property,” and, “Starting now, I keep an eye on you.”
Guess what? Peter is not on the same page as Julie—he enrolls at the Naval Academy, much to Julie’s complete despair. And in a bizarre coincidence, when Peter shows up for his first year, the upperclassman responsible for making his life a living hell turns out to be Tim. Julie begs Tim to lighten up on Peter, even saying that if he does she will “try to be nicer,” but Tim is outraged and tells her off, saying, “You’ve done your best to spoil him rotten; it’s a wonder he ever made it into the Academy,” and then refuses to see her.
Peter actually proves Tim right, slipping out one night after curfew, but Tim goes after him to bring him back and keep him from getting expelled, and his caught himself while Peter makes it safely back. Tim is sentenced to two months’ confinement to campus, while Julie writes him long letters and undergoes a transformation in her attitude—or so we are initially led to think. Because when Tim is finally allowed to see her and proposes (for the second time, actually, the poor dope), on the Naval Academy docks, she’s about to turn him down again—ARGH!—because although she understands that “Tim and Peter would be different from the brutal men who usually wore uniforms. But they were not typical of military men. Tim mustn’t marry a girl who wasn’t heart and soul in favor of the Navy. Such a girl would hurt his career. Nothing, no one must hurt his career; it meant too much for him.”
Fortunately for Tim, he’s spared another disappointment when a boat on the river suddenly explodes and a boy is thrown into the water. Tim leaps in and saves the kid—but is burned, again, and so lands back in the hospital under Julie’s care, again. So without any further explanation, she agrees to marry him—and at graduation with all those shining faces reciting The Prayer of a Midshipman, Julie completes her change of heart with the realization that “in that other military, God was denied. Without Him, the soldier or sailor became brutal.” I’ll skip debating that point, which seems clearly ludicrous—anyone else remember the Inquisition?—but in the last chapter Julie has her Annapolis wedding and cuts the cake with Tim’s sword, “the shining moment of her life,” I am sorry to report.
There’s a lot of armchair travel in this book, with an extensive tour of Annapolis, the Naval Academy, and its many traditions, which could make this book worth reading if you have an interest in any of that. But the R.N. after author McDonnell’s name is completely wasted here, as the minimal mentions of Julie’s actual work are limited to very clinical descriptions of various surgeries she assists in. And Julie herself is a frustrating, peculiarly motivated, unsympathetic heroine. Even if the writing does not make you need to throw the book, it is completely devoid of wit, camp, and even style, and the plot is certainly stupid enough to make it a struggle to continue turning the pages. My advice: Don’t bother to try.