Veteran Salute: Retired Navy Nurse from Vietnam to NASA

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Navy veteran says she knew during grade school she wanted to take care of others.

She became a nurse, but it only took her a year to figure out she wanted more.

Joyce Craig says her parents finally believed she was signing up for the service when she boarded a plane.

Her first station was San Diego, and she planned to spend about two years in service, but she stayed in for 20.

“Scared, excited, going to be away for a year from your family,” Navy nurse Joyce Craig said.

Craig said she was full of emotions after she got orders for Vietnam.

“Wherever we were needed, we went,” Craig said.

The Navy nurses did have to get used to some new military terminology because they were headed to Da Nang where they would be “boots on the ground”.

“At that time we wore little white shoes, we didn’t wear boots and that just wasn’t our way of talking,” Craig said.

She said the nurses all had experience which was good because of all they saw.

“I lost a lot of sleep, cried a lot,” Craig said.

She said patients were brought in by three different kinds of helicopters.

“We knew the sound, so we knew the kind of patients probably coming in,” Craig said.

She said regardless of their injuries, the nurses remained optimistic.

“We would try to get them comfortable and be positive, that they are going to get well,” Craig said.

She said they had to provide care, in a very hostile place.

“To think about incoming rounds injuring patients, and myself,” Craig said.

Two different areas of the hospital were hit by enemy fire.

“The Viet Cong could be on the other side,” Craig said.

The enemy was so close there were guard shacks lining the perimeter.

“A jungle was like on the other side of the fence, they could have infiltrated,” Craig said.

She said nurses had to go between Quonset huts to treat patients.

“Here we were in little white dresses, in the night, you know the big target,” Craig said.

She said they had to make some uniform modifications.

“Ponchos over our head and then just kind of run to the next ward,” Craig said.

She said they rarely left the grounds, and if they did, they got around, by riding in the back of an ambulance.

“It’s dark and bumpy, and hopefully we got where we were trying to go,” Craig said.

She said occasionally they would get a little time to have some fun at China Beach, and they also stayed busy helping the village’s people.

“When it was a down, quiet time they would do humanitarian procedures,” Craig said.

In one photo, you see Craig pictured with her flak jacket and helmet with a poster, that stated ‘On your next vacation visit beautiful Vietnam’.

“We never wanted to go back,” Craig said.

She said they all had calendars, counting down the days left in the country.

Once home, Craig got an out of this world assignment for NASA.

“I was selected to go as an Intensive Care Unit nurse for the whole launch of Skylab and the three astronaut groups,” Craig said.

She said they had to stay at the hospital, just in case during launches, so they would climb up on the roof to watch.

“We just hoped and prayed it was going to get up there and get out of sight,” Craig said.

She said the care teams never even met the astronauts.

“Once they came in from Houston they were in quarantine because you couldn’t catch a cold and then go into space,” Craig said.

After three launches with Skylab, she was also part of a joint mission between the United States and Russia, during the Cold War.

“We felt very important because it was very exciting,” Craig said.

While Craig was still stationed in Jacksonville, she met a pilot at a Boston Tops concert.

The two married, and both went on to retire from the Navy.

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