Joan McDermott attended Walther Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago to become a registered nurse when she was only 17 years old. She then worked in a suburban hospital in surgery for 2 years before joining the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during the Vietnam War. In late 1967, Joan was sent to Saigon arriving a month before the TET Offensive. While serving at an Army hospital, enemy snipers attacked the area and forced Joan to sleep under a table in the hospital for 3 nights to avoid the gunfire. Sadly, a casualty of this attack included one of her childhood neighbors from growing up in Wisconsin. It was a difficult beginning to her service in the Army to say the least.
Despite this harrowing experience, Joan said one of the best parts of the military was, “the comradery, no question about it. You never experienced anything like that especially in a war zone. It makes you feel like you’re closer to your comrades and family. When people close to you end up as casualties to the battlefield it really hits hard.”
Joan remembers one of the better memories of her service being “… the opportunity in Saigon to get to know the Vietnamese people. A few of us would go and pack up our jeep and do what we called MedCAPs. We would go to orphanages and give the kids there shots or patch up their injuries. We would also go to hospitals to help people and when local surgeons couldn’t perform procedures we would bring the patients back to our hospital and do the procedures there. Having Vietnamese friends gave me a unique perspective.” Living on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia gave her the opportunity to see the world through other people’s eyes. “When you’re looking at the world from the perspective of other people and other countries, the U.S. looks quite different. It broadened my perspective on inter-dependency of all citizens of the earth.”
In recent years, Joan has played an important role in the Lake Havasu veterans community. She credits this participation to a convention in Phoenix that inspired her to get involved. “As a female veteran, I didn’t really think of myself as a vet, I was a mom, a nurse and married to an army officer. It wasn’t until I came to Lake Havasu and went to a convention of women in the military in Phoenix. I was asked why I wasn’t a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and I responded because I didn’t realize I qualified. That brought it full circle that I was a veteran and I wanted to help serve other veterans.”
After this revelation Joan joined the VFW and became the Commander of post 9401 where she is currently serving in her second year. After she finishes her service at the VFW she hopes to return to nursing part-time. The VFW works with numerous other veterans organizations as well as the Veterans Treatment Court, a program that helps veterans get the proper assistance with substance abuse or combat mental health issues to help keep them from becoming involved in the criminal justice system. There is a Veterans Court in Lake Havasu that is now expanding into Bullhead city representing rural veterans. Joan works very closely with vets in the area and is very proud of it. “I enjoy every moment of it, it’s really wonderful to continue to be able to give back to my country.”
|Portrait of Joan McDermott in 2016.|