Sunday, February 25, 2024

Navy Nurse

By Virginia McCall, ©1968 

Lieut. Tracy Moore is shocked to discover that on her first sea assignment she is the only nurse aboard a naval transport sailing to the Far East. Trouble starts happening in sick bay immediately. Several emergencies—including an operation for appendicitis during a typhoon—test Tracy’s skill to its fullest. Tested too is Tracy’s love for Dick Simpson, the biologist she left behind. For on shipboard she meets and is attracted to handsome Lieut. Wade Cochran, who makes no secret of the fact that he is falling in love with her. With her superior officers watching her professional performance carefully, and Dick waiting for her answer back in port, Tracy knows that this voyage will determine her future as a Navy nurse—and as a woman.


“Sukiyaki and kimonos—and no Dick, she thought, with a sudden foretaste of loneliness. She would be leaving Dick behind.” 

Tracy Moore is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and a nurse stationed in the Oakland hills, when she gets orders that she is going to be shipping out soon. Tracy has been seeing Dick Simpson, who appears to be a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley studying migratory birds, but their relationship seems to be foundering. When they’re together, Dick can only talk about birds, and he certainly never talks about getting married! He even makes Tracy late for an important Navy appointment—and spatters her beautiful dress uniform with unsightly gunk!—when he abruptly pulls over on the Bay Bridge and wades into the muck of the bay to rescue a loon encased in oil. “Not that she was willing to admit that she was falling in love with Dick!” Well, she certainly doesn’t act like it. But her young man’s name does make for amused chuckles, such as when reading the line, “In the back of her mind she was constantly thinking of Dick.” So juvenile, but there it is.

She’s attached to a transport vessel, which seems mostly like a sort of Navy-sponsored Carnival cruise line in which hundreds of women and children are shuttled from one side of the Pacific Ocean to the other; there’s even an officer in charge of scheduling movies and activities and entertainments for the passengers. Tracy’s job is mostly to keep their tummies soothed when the waves get choppy, plus manage anything else that might come in. And a few emergencies do; there’s a bleeding ulcer that receives more than a dozen units of blood (pumped from the blood bank of sailors also being ferried on the ship) and one cute 19-year-old who gets an appendectomy during a typhoon, but apart from “tying everything down” (not sure how one ties down sterile instruments), even that back-cover-worthy event passes without much ado.

Onboard ship she is attracted to the only single male officer, Wade Cameron, who is a smooth and unfathomably handsome man who pays her some passing attention but doesn’t seem especially interested—at least until the end of the cruise, when he starts hanging around in her group more frequently. And so with little plot or interest we arrive at the end of the voyage, when Wade is telling her that he has something important to discuss with her. But when Tracy calls home to talk with Dick and he is out with her roommate, that is all that she needs after months apart to come to her senses! “I’m in love with Dick,” she realizes, after having given him little or no thought except exasperation at his letters, which blather on about ducks and other waterfowl. Now all she needs to do is head Wade off at the pass, but he wasn’t really interested in her anyway, because he only wanted to ask her if “a confirmed bachelor has any right to allow himself serious attentions when he’s off to Vietnam. You’ve relieved my mind,” he tells her when she mentions her boyfriend, so I guess he wasn’t that smitten after all. Back in port, she has only to sort out her future with Dick in four days before she hits the sea again, but it doesn’t even take that long, as he presents her with a “modest” diamond ring.

The best thing that can be said about this, the fourth book titled Navy Nurse I have read (see also Navy Nurse, Navy Nurse and Navy Nurse), is that the Navy jargon is not so thick that you can’t understand what the heck they are talking about. The plot is ho-hum, Tracy as a main character is kind of paradoxical—flying into rages and shouting at people out of the blue while displaying little gumption or backbone apart from creating a first aid kit that the U.S. Navy should have come up with on their own decades ago, and demonstrating little to no interest in her boyfriend until she thinks she may be about to lose him. One of the best parts of the book is the descriptions of the drive from Berkeley to San Francisco along the mud flats of the bay—one I have made many times and which felt very nostalgic to me. The descriptions of the Asian ports did not veer into stupid racism the way may of VNRNs do, though they do take a very American view of those countries—sukiyaki and kimonos is all she can picture when she imagines Japan—so the armchair travel is limited here. In short, it’s not all bad, but it’s fairly blah. The C-grade book, I have said before, is the worst kind—neither cold nor hot—and so I suggest that unless you have a burning interest in the 1960s Navy, you should leave this one on the shelf—and the cover illustration should make that choice easier.

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