After graduating from Charles City Community High School in 1970, I enrolled at Iowa Methodist School of Nursing in Des Moines for a 33 month diploma in nursing program. In the fall of 1971, a Navy recruiter came to school and offered the 2nd and 3rd year students a free weekend trip to Pensacola, Florida Three other friends and I decided to go and we flew down on a Navy transport plane to the Pensacola Naval Air Station.


I had never flown before or been to Florida. They gave us a tour of the military hospital on base and assigned us a male escort for a dinner dance that night. We took a trip by car to the beach and I remember it was very hot and humid compared to the Iowa weather we left.

In May 1972, I decided to enlist in the Naval Reserve Officer Candidate. One of the reasons I joined was that getting a base monthly pay the last year of school would help me get started on my career. I was the second of six kids and my sister would be graduating from ISU (Iowa State University) the same time I was. I thought it would be ok to live away from Iowa as growing up on a dairy farm, our family had never gone too far from home.

I would go to Officer Candidate school after I graduated from nursing school. The recruiter said I could pick three bases and would be guaranteed one of my choice. I chose Oakland, California; Great Lakes, Illinois; and Charleston, South Carolina.

On May 18, 1973, I was commissioned as an Ensign- Navy Nurse Corps at the Federal Building in Des Moines. I used some of my pay to buy a new car, 1973 Dodge Dart Swinger ­two door bronze metallic with beige vinyl roof and interior. I only had it two months when it was hit by another car while in the parking lot. I flew to Newport Rhode Island for six weeks of officer candidate school the end of August, 1973. I was really disappointed not to go there right after graduation, and also had found out where I was to be stationed. Where was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina? It was a Marine Corps base. That was NOT one of my choices.

I spent the summer in the school dorm, studying for my RN (Registered Nurse) boards in July and working the night shift at Blank Children's hospital as a graduate nurse. I did not find out I had passed my boards until later in September. I think my Mom got the results at home and called me.

Newport, Rhode Island was a beautiful place with lots of beautiful old mansions, which we could visit. We had been flown in and would fly out, so we had no transportation, but we rented a car and toured a lot. At Newport, I met a few other nurses going to Camp Lejeune also. One was to be my best friend, Jane Odrobina from Buffalo, New York. After learning Navy protocol and getting uniforms and doing little organized walks to meals, we graduated from Newport and I flew back to Iowa. I packed up my car and my Mom and I drove to Camp Lejeune. The base was very large with areas of just woods among base housing units. The single medical

officers had housing in an old two-story brick building - the Bachelors Officer Quarters that was just a walk across the street from one entrance of the hospital. Each person got two small rooms with a bathroom connecting them. One was used as a sitting room and the other was a bedroom. They were furnished with basic furniture. Each room had a sink and mirror as they were initially designed for each person to have one room and share the bathroom with the neighbor, My rooms looked out over part of the New River waterway that was part of the base.

I was assigned to work on the female dependent ward that had military and civilian nurses on staff. We also had military enlisted corpwaves that were similar to nurses aides in the hospital. We all rotated shifts with the nurses having 8-hour shifts: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 4 p.m. to mid­night, and midnight to 8:00 a.m. The corpswaves had 8 hour shifts but 12 hour duties on the weekends.

One of the first things I had to get proficient at was drawing blood. It was the night nurse's duty to draw all the lab work for the ward and have it to the lab by 8:00 a.m. They told us that was because there was not enough lab personnel. All the equipment was older than I was used to. For example, the wheelchairs were wooden with high backs and caned seats and backs. The beds did not adjust or were cranked by hand for adjustment. The patients on the ward were general medicine and post-surgical. There was another ward for females with gynecology problems.

Officers had their own wing on the hospital with private rooms that had males and females on it. There was another whole building for Obstetrics. The hospital was a two-story brick building with one long main hall down the center and many wings off of it. It had it's own branch of the Bank of North Carolina near the main entrance. The emergency room had it's own staff and kept very busy. There was an assigned officer of the day that was one of the medical doctors and a nurse of the day that was one of the higher ranking nurses — Lt. Commander or Commander.

I got leave in June of 1974, and returned to Charles City to marry Marlin Eddy. Marlin and other male ISU students from their residence halls were invited to a social mixer/dance at the school of nursing, which is how we met in December 1971. We drove back to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and moved into a townhouse off base. I could get a housing allowance now that I had married. There was a long waiting list for married officer housing on base. Marlin worked for the Bank of North Carolina in the data processing center, usually an evening shift, so we didn't always have the same schedule.

Usually I worked seven nights in a row and had four days off then worked seven evening shifts in a row. I think that was about every six weeks and the rest were days. While we lived in North Carolina we visited Charleston, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, Wilmington and Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks in North Carolina. When it was time for my tour of duty to end, Lois and Bill Eddy took the greyhound bus to Jacksonville, and rode with us as we traveled home in two cars. We arrived in Iowa on August 1, 1975 — my birthday. Yvonne Perry the Clarke County Hospital Administrator offered me a job on the night shift. After being discharged, I was to remain on inactive duty for six years. I then resigned my commission. I was a Lieutenant Junior Grade when I was discharged from active duty.

I feel I got a wide variety of nursing experience while I was in the Navy. Most of my Navy dress uniforms issued were used very little. The hospital white nurses' uniforms were worn out after two years of wear.


Return to main page for Clarke Veterans by Fern Underwood

Last Revised June 1, 2015