November, 1941. She’s never even seen the ocean before, but Eva Cassidy has her reasons for making the crossing to Hawaii, and they run a lot deeper than escaping a harsh Michigan winter. Newly enlisted as an Army Corps nurse, Eva is stunned by the splendor she experiences aboard the steamship SS Lurline; even more so by Lt. Clark Spencer, a man she is drawn to but who clearly has secrets of his own. But Eva’s past—and the future she’s trying to create—means that she’s not free to follow her heart. Clark is a navy intelligence officer, and he warns her that the United States won’t be able to hold off joining the war for long, but nothing can prepare them for the surprise attack that will change the world they know.
In the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Eva and her fellow nurses band together for the immense duty of keeping the American wounded alive. And the danger that finds Eva threatens everything she holds dear. Amid the chaos and heartbreak, Eva will have to decide whom to trust and how far she will go to protect those she loves.
Set in the vibrant tropical surroundings of the Pacific, The Lieutenant’s Nurse is an evocative, emotional WWII story of love, friendship and the resilient spirit of the heroic nurses of Pearl Harbor.
Today we have an excerpt of THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE
Eva awoke to the painful sounds of retching. A lamp was already lit and she checked her
watch. Eight o’clock! A rare occasion of sleeping in. Poor Jo had a brief respite of sleep, and now was beginning her day in a most unfortunate way. Being tucked away in the bowels of the Lurline with no windows did not help matters.
“I’m going to get you better if it’s the last thing I do. Get dressed, and put on a sweater,”
Jo sighed and shook her head. “I can’t.”
“You can and you will. Now, sit up.”
If Jo was surprised at Eva’s bossiness, she didn’t show it. Instead, she lugged herself up,
staggered to the bathroom and spit up in the sink. She slammed the door behind her. Eva heard the faucet turn on, and a few minutes later Jo came out with her short hair smoothed down and tamed with a headband. Spiderwebs of red laced her eyes, and her face glistened milky.
“You need fresh air, to start with,” said Eva.
“But I can’t—”
“I will carry the wastebasket for you. Come on,” Eva said, picking up the metal trash bin,
as if that would do much good. The ship still lurched about, causing the occasional loss of balance. The worst thing was you never knew which direction it was coming from. Jo had managed to slip on a plaid dress and wrap herself in a threadbare gray sweater. She wouldn’t win any fashion awards, but there were plenty more days for that, unlikely as it might be.
On the way up, Jo had to stop several times to catch her breath, but they made it
topside and followed a hallway astern. A handy flyer on the bureau had listed ship terms, and Eva studied it the night before as she tried to fall asleep. A fathom was six feet, while the fo’castle, the seamen’s quarters. And of course port was left, starboard right. Sleep had eventually come, though fitfully and littered with thoughts of Ruby.
Wind whipped along the decks and rain pelted sideways. Eva found a seat for Jo,
handed her the wastebasket and said, “Hang on, I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, watch the horizon and inhale as much of this salt air as you can.” Jo looked shocked but was too weak to object.
The hallways were still empty, but there were signs of recovery with small groups in the
lounge and more tables full in the dining room. Eva scanned for signs of anyone she recognized from last night, but the only familiar faces were those of the football team. The bar was closed, so she flagged down a bellboy and ordered several ginger brews and packets of soda crackers, and took them back to Jo.
“I knew Hawaii would not be good for me,” Jo said, still green.
“Drink this.” Eva handed her a bottle.
Jo obeyed. Leaning her head back against the wall in between sips, she nevertheless
managed to get the whole thing down, followed by several soda crackers.
Eva added, “Once you get there, you can stay ashore all you want. Where are you from
Jo, it turned out, was born in Ohio, lived in North Dakota and worked as a schoolteacher. She had been recruited in the middle of winter. A smart ploy on the part of the
recruiters. Who wouldn’t be lured by the promise of year-round summers where you could lounge in a hammock under a palm tree three hundred and fifty days a year?
“Why did you sign up if you knew it would be bad for you?” Eva asked.
“Because I was sick to death of being frozen, and our schoolhouse closed down. But at
the time I didn’t factor in my temperament. It sounded romantic and warm.”
Jo looked as though she might retch again, but instead she let out an enormous belch.
Eva pretended to look out at the ocean as a few heads turned their way.
“What’s wrong with your temperament?” Eva said.
“I have weak nerves.”
“It would seem to me that picking up and moving halfway across the world requires a
certain amount of courage.”
“I hadn’t much choice,” Jo said, chewing another cracker and looking as though she
might cry. “And now I’ll be stuck there because I will not be able to survive another crossing. That is a dreadful fact.”
“You might surprise yourself. I’ve seen people survive much worse,” Eva said.
Here she was, taking care of others. It made her feel useful and important and good. If
there was anything she knew about herself, it was that she was born to help others. If only she were a little better at helping herself. Eva rounded up a blanket and left Jo on a covered deck chair to soak in the blustery Pacific air. The halls were still sparsely filled, but there seemed to now be twice as many people milling about as last night. Most of the passengers would still be reeling in their beds. The breakfast buffet was more elaborate than dinner had been, with plates of strawberries, pineapple and banana with silver bowls of shredded coconut. Tiers of cinnamon buns, pecan snails and twisted doughnuts. Pancakes and waffles and tropical syrup. You could even choose your own omelet, made to order. What happened to plain old steak and eggs? There was an extra seat at the football players’ table, and Eva took it. She wasn’t in the mood for any more talk of war or medicine. Each one of the boys had enough food on their plates to each feed an elephant. She surprised herself by being able to eat half a cinnamon bun and a banana, but that was all her stomach would allow in.
Clark was nowhere to be seen, and as much as she fought it, a small sting of
disappointment arose. But what did she really know about the man, other than he was navy and spoke Japanese? And was dashing as all get-out. She couldn’t quite shake him from her mind.
After eating, she spent the rest of the morning exploring the cavernous ship, getting the
lay of the place; she admired colorful South Pacific artwork with native women adorned in flowers holding platters of fruit, rooms with gilded ceilings and full of real-looking fake plants. You could walk for hours and never cross the same path, it seemed. That a thing of such size floated was beyond her ability to comprehend. She finally settled in the library, where several others were posted up in oversize leather chairs, faces hidden by books. Lucky for them.
While others had attended the elaborate bon voyage parties yesterday, Eva had been
tied up in a bookstore picking out medical texts to read on the way over. Instead of reading about Lassie or Philip Marlowe, she would be busy memorizing The American Pocket Medical Dictionary and soaking in the latest journal articles on anesthesia.
On a nearby shelf, Matson postcards with various oceangoing motifs were stacked high.
Eva picked one out with a Pacific islander riding a wave on a long plank. She sat down to write.
Today is our second day out and the seas are wild. No one is up and around
because of seasickness, but I am miraculously fine. Fate has her reasons, none of which
we know. I am sticking to my promise and trying to enjoy myself, but I miss you terribly.
There are lots of interesting characters aboard, from football players to doctors, and
even a soldier who speaks Japanese, but I still wish you were here. You would love it,
especially the fashion! I will write more when the seas settle and I can keep my pen
PS I hope you are enjoying the candy I left with you.
That evening, Eva chose her sapphire velvet dress for its warmth, even though it was old
and now gaped where it should have hugged. She pinned her hair on the sides with beaded bobby pins. The humid weather was giving it a mind of its own, but she eventually managed to tame the unruliness. Her mother’s only pearl brooch matched nicely, so she stuck that on, too. When all was said and done, she just might be able to fit in. It felt like the Lurline and everyone on it had been immune to the Depression, and hardships had skipped this whole neck of the woods.
The storm was easing by now, still blustery and cool, but the seas were calming down.
Jo dressed for dinner, too. “I may make it through this after all, thanks to you,” Jo said with her first real smile of the trip.
“The whole world can seem hopeless when you’re under the weather. Sickness does
that to a person.”
Their table was full of singles and couples, with a pair of twin sisters heading back to
Australia, a merchant by the name of Donny Honk from Los Angeles, an Englishman, two ladies from Chicago decked to the nines, and Mr. Ogden, who seemed extraordinarily cheered by his good fortune. He couldn’t tear his eyes off the twins, who were blonde and lovely.
Frankly, Eva couldn’t blame him. Everybody was lamenting over their past twenty-four hours—my head was in the toilet, I would just as soon cut off my own leg as go through that again—and excited for the trip to really get going. Eva ordered the breast of chicken with wild rice, glacé pineapple and truffle sauce, but was only able to pick at it. Try as she might, her stomach was just not interested.
Donny, who had traveled on the Lurline before, went on and on about the midnight
snack. “Don’t be fooled by the word snack, just you wait.”
Jo had a laugh like a lonely donkey, but at least she was in good spirits, as the whole
room seemed to be. Latecomers filed in, and Eva admired the outfits, much like she was
watching a fashion show—something she had never done before. Gingham and floral and satin. Many of the women were in strapless dresses in bold pinks and oranges or wore plunging necklines, making her feel like a prude. Eva found herself intrigued by the twins’ Australian accents, with the vowels all mixed up and drawn out, and every sentence sounding like a question. It made them sound sweet and highly feminine. Sasha and Bree were their names.
“Where are you ladies returning from?” Eva asked, just wanting to hear the sound of
“And San Francisco—”
“We’re joining up with the Australian Army Nursing Service, and our father wanted us to
see a bit of America before we head off overseas. ‘Travel is a girl’s best friend’ is his motto.”
Eva would not have pegged the two as nurses, but imagined that any wounded soldier
would be happy to have either one looking over him. “Fellow nurses, I had no idea. Where will you be going?”
“Somewhere in the Mediterranean, maybe Egypt or Palestine,” Bree said. “And if we can see the great Pyramids, all the better.”
“Why, those are dangerous places. Are you afraid?” Eva asked.
Bree waved her fork. “We want to do our bit. Have you seen ’em in the papers? Those
poor blokes deserve all the help they can get.”
“Very noble of you, ladies,” Eva said, impressed.
He scanned the table and stopped when his gaze found Eva. A thin smile and subtle nod
was all he gave.
“I have previous arrangements, but will see what I can do,” he said.
“Well, a little lady luck is always nice, so do find us,” Bree said.
He cleared his throat. “That it is. Enjoy your meal.” And he was off. The twins turned to each other, whispering. Eva thought she heard the words share him. Eva’s neck heated up and she turned her attention to the tangy pineapple sauce on her plate.
All through dinner, she was preoccupied with the notion of Clark with one of the twins.
But hadn’t he said he had other arrangements for bingo? Perhaps his wife was on board and confined to her room with seasickness. But surely he would have mentioned that. There was plenty of talk about sailors, especially those fresh from sea, and how they flocked to Chinatown for weekends of boozing and womanizing. Clark didn’t seem that type, but one never knew. And at most, for Eva, he was simply a welcome distraction from worrying over Ruby every spare moment, or fretting that someone at Pearl Harbor would recognize her and she would lose her job and be court-martialed.
Dessert was baked Alaska—a core of ice cream with walnut sponge cake and torched
meringue. Jo polished off the half of Eva’s that she couldn’t finish, and several petits fours to boot.
“Making up for lost time,” she said with cream on her chin. Jo was also adamant about playing bingo. Eva had mixed feelings. It sounded pleasant enough, but the open air was calling to her and she felt like walking several laps around the ship before sitting in another enclosed room. The rise and fall of the swells were reduced to easy rocking, enough to lull, but not enough to induce nausea. Clusters of people gathered to smoke, play cards and compare seasickness stories, and mothers with dark circles under their eyes stood on the decks while their young children ran back and forth like chickens just released from their cage. On the side deck, Eva enjoyed a damp and thick wind, which smelled briny and foreign to her. Nothing like the scent of parched earth she was accustomed to.
To say the last ten years back home had been difficult was an understatement of great
proportions. Empty wallets, sparse food, people around them losing homes, farms, everything. One family Eva and her father would visit had set up a system where Monday was John’s day to eat, Tuesday was Mary’s. Along with medicine, she and her father would bring them eggs and greens he sent Ruby out to forage for.
Eva’s thoughts went to her father, as they often did. What would he think of her running
off to Hawaii? At least Billy was there. He’s good stock and he can take care of you. Women are meant to be married, Evelyn. Her father had been a difficult man to please. Evelyn, what do these symptoms say to you? When Eva would answer, usually correctly, his response would be, Yes, but… Yes, but what about the swollen tongue? Yes, but what about the pain in the lower back? Anytime someone said “Yes, but” to her, her stomach twisted. And yet Eva and Ruby had meant everything to him. He loved them with the fierceness of the noonday sun. And that had only doubled once their mother died.
Every so often, wafts of smoke blew through, and Eva moved to the front deck to be
upwind of the smokestack. The rain had stopped and her wool sweater was pulled tight around her. Up in the sky, the clouds had parted, exposing a small patch of stars.
From out of the dark next to her came a voice. “Did you make a wish?”
She must have jumped three feet in the air before clutching the railing to stabilize
“Horsefeathers, Lieutenant, I could have fallen overboard.”
“Just you wait until the weather clears. There is no place like the middle of the ocean to
view the stars. Far away from city lights, no trees or mountains in the way. It never gets old,” he said, moving in beside her and looking up.
“How long have you been in Hawaii?” she asked.
“How long will you be stationed there?”
“Until they send me someplace else, I guess. I thought I’d be in Japan longer, but they
shipped us out. It all depends on what happens over there in Tokyo and in Europe,” he said.
She was dying to ask more, but didn’t want to seem nosy. “How about your family?”
“The folks are still in North Carolina and I have a brother overseas in Britain and another working on a ranch in Montana,” he said.
What about your wife? she wanted to ask, instead coming out with, “Do you miss
Even when she had been away at school, home was only a day away by train. The ache
for Ruby seemed to grow with each mile of ocean crossed. It would be at least a year before she would see her sister again. And knowing that she was sick and scared only magnified the feeling tenfold.
“You get used to it. At first I went home at every opportunity, but then I was stationed
in China and the Philippines and Japan. I got real good at writing letters.”
All the places he’d been. She felt boring in comparison.
“That writing room on deck is something else. They’ve thought of everything and more
on this ship,” she said.
Her words were carried off by the wind, and he inched closer, nearly brushing her
shoulder. They were both leaning over the railing, looking into the swirling seas. She held her breath. What was wrong with her?
He nodded. “A far cry from a destroyer or a transport.”
“How come you’re traveling on a civilian ship?” she asked.
“I’m needed back in Honolulu and the timing worked better with the Lurline. I’m not
complaining one bit, though,” he said.
She could feel his gaze, intensity boring through the skin on the side of her face.
“So, if you had to suggest one thing for me to do when I arrive, or one place to see, what
would it be?” she said, turning to meet his eyes, which were trained on her.
He thought for a few moments. “Everyone loves Waikiki Beach, but I would say take a
drive or even the train out north and see the swells along the coast near a town called Haleiwa. Right offshore, they’re as tall as buildings and the beach goes on for miles. There’s shells and big white chunky sand and the sun sets right into the ocean.” He cut himself off but looked like he wanted to say something else.
“Sounds dreamy,” she said, using one of Ruby’s favorite terms. Her little sister read like
the dickens and was full of catchy phrases. Eva had absorbed many of them just by being in close proximity.
“It’s a long ride, but well worth it. Out of the hustle and bustle.”
“For a girl who’s never even seen the ocean before, everything over there is going to
seem magical, even the so-called hustle and bustle.”
Clark cleared his throat and his face stiffened. “Look, I’m not sure what your situation is,
but if you need a tour guide, I can drive you out there one weekend, or anywhere else for that matter.”
She found herself wanting nothing more than to be driven around the island with this
man. Was it possible to keep him as a friend? He and Billy would probably get on well, maybe they even knew each other. And maybe she and his wife could become friends. Wait, that was ridiculous, it wasn’t how things worked.
“What a lovely offer—”
She was about to ask him about his wife when loud voices floated up behind them and a
couple of young men from the football team showed up. “Lieutenant Spencer, we’re waiting on you. Bingo’s getting underway.”
Clark looked at his watch. “The time got away from me,” he said.
“I can see why,” said one of the players, and Eva felt the blood rush to her cheeks.
Clark touched her wrist. “Can we continue this conversation another time?”
“Of course. I promised Jo I would join her in there anyway.”
“Sit with us,” he said.
It sounded like an order. One she would be pleased to obey.
Speaking of hustle and bustle, the card room was swarming with people. Eva had never
been keen to throw her money away, but a few games wouldn’t hurt. Jo was already seated with Donny and there were no seats around them, so Eva ended up purchasing bingo cards with Clark and sitting to his left. There were five long tables set up with enough room for at least twenty-five seats. Each one was nearly full. More than food, it turned out, people liked a good game.
“It should be a nice kitty,” Clark said, raising his voice to be heard over the chatter.
“Back at home, you’d win a goat if you were lucky,” she said.
He laughed. “Get out of here.”
“I’m serious. People played in the town hall but no one had any money to put in, so
each week, a new person would offer up a prize. One week my father came home with a baby goat. Another time, a bucketful of bullfrogs.”
“What did you do with them?”
“We took them down to a creek the next day and let ’em loose. Dad said that since they
ate mosquitos, and mosquitos cause disease, then you could never have too many bullfrogs in the neighborhood,” she said.
“There won’t be any goats or bullfrogs tonight. More like crisp bills.”
In the bright lights she noticed for the first time a large brown fleck in his right
iris—which was sky blue—and smile lines fanning out from his eyes. She guessed him to be about thirty, give or take.
Up onstage, the announcer rattled off numbers he pulled from a box. “B-7, O-5, N-10.”
She had none of those on her card, but Clark’s was quickly filling with chips. The young football players were cheering and laughing and jabbing each other.
“Can you guess which one is the quarterback?” he asked.
She knew enough about football to know that quarterbacks had to be quick-witted. She
surveyed the bunch. After ruling out the bulky ones, she decided on a tall fellow with dark hair and a calm demeanor.
“Him?” She nodded his way.
She shrugged. “I’m willing to bet that you were a quarterback, too, weren’t you?”
His smile answered her question. “We could use someone like you in our operation.
Nuances are important and not everyone has the knack.”
“There must be something you can tell me about your work?” she said.
He bent toward her ear like he was going to spill a secret. “Natsu no kusa, nokori subete
heishi no yume no uchi.”
“You don’t say?”
I-8 was called and Clark put another chip on his card.
“Can you guess what it means?” he said.
“In case you’ve forgotten, I have never even met a Japanese person.” She thought about
his tone. Soft, almost flowery. “I’ll wager you weren’t telling me about your job, though.”
“Righto. It was a type of Japanese short poem. Haiku they’re called. Like hauntingly
beautiful fragments of the world.”
“What did this one say?” she asked.
“Summer grasses, all that remains of soldiers’ dreams.”
The simple truth of the words hit smack in the center of her chest. So much so that she
could feel the weight of all those lost dreams. Men bleeding into the fields.
“Why, it’s genius,” she said.
He nodded. “The simplicity of it.”
“All very nice, but it still doesn’t answer my question of what you do, Lieutenant.”
“That’s for another time,” he said with a slight shake of his head. “And, boy, do I wish
things were different right now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.
“G-9,” boomed the man on the microphone.
“Bingo!” the quarterback yelled, jumping up and running toward the man in the suit
pulling numbers. Eva watched him run up and caught sight of the Australian twins at the table behind them. She was more relieved than she should have been that Clark had not joined the two women. Ogden was sitting with them as well as the plantation manager and two other men.
“A nice purse of twenty-five dollars!” called the man up front.
They had purchased five cards each, and the next few games went along without Eva
even getting close. Each time someone yelled “Bingo,” she deflated like someone had just let all of her air out. She could see why the game was addictive. And being here surrounded by velvet curtains was a far cry from the goats and bullfrogs of Hollowcreek. On the last card, Eva needed only B-4, and Clark B-9. The man pulling numbers was dillydallying and telling dumb jokes.
“He—Why didn’t you answer my letter? She—I didn’t get it. He—You didn’t get it? She—No, and besides, I didn’t like some of the things you said in it.”
“Come on, man, call it,” Clark said.
Clark reached down and squeezed her hand, seemingly without even a second thought.
The warmth ran right through her, sending her insides into a frenzy.
It took her a moment to register that she had won. Clark nudged her, then held up her
arm and called out. “Over here, bingo!”
The announcer bellowed, “Another happy customer going to Honolulu with some extra
lettuce.” When she reached the stage, he asked her what she would be spending it on.
Eva turned to the room and froze. “Um, well…” She caught sight of Clark watching her,
his presence reassuring, and regained her wits. Send it to my sister—which is what she would probably end up doing—sounded so boring, so she improvised. “Maybe take a train ride out to the north side of the island, and buy some pineapple along the way.”
“And who will be the lucky companion?” he said, shoving the microphone in her face.
Talk about being put on the spot. She hemmed and hawed before finally saying, “That
remains to be seen.”
About Sara Ackerman
Sara is the bestselling author of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at http://www.ackermanbooks.com.
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