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It's time to recognize cadet nurses as veterans
Haverhill Gazette - 2/1/2018
"They saved lives at home, so others could save lives abroad."
So reads the plaque at Eisenhower Memorial Plaza in East Meadow, New York, honoring the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.
All told, almost 125,000 women entered the corps during and immediately after World War II, helping to reverse a shortage of nurses stateside and providing care to wounded soldiers and seamen returning from battle overseas.
Once the war began, trained nurses were transferred from civilian to military service, leaving huge gaps in care at home. Established by the U.S. government in 1943, the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps helped meet the need by working with nursing schools to provide women -- mostly young women -- with accelerated training. By 1945, Cadet Nurses were providing 80 percent of the nursing care in U.S. hospitals.
While the Cadet Nurse Corps worked stateside, make no mistake, their efforts were vital to the Allied war effort.
"In my opinion, the country has received and increasingly will receive substantial returns on this investment," then-Surgeon General Thomas Parran Jr. told the U.S. House Committee on Military Affairs in 1945. "We cannot measure what the loss to the country would have been if civilian nursing service had collapsed, any more than we could measure the cost of failure at the Normandy beachheads."
Today, however, those who served in the Cadet Nurse Corps are not recognized as veterans and do not receive benefits granted to those who have served their country.
The cadet nurses remain the only uniformed corps members from World War II not to be recognized as veterans. This is simply unacceptable.
While it is true the Cadet Corps did not serve overseas, it was clearly a wartime initiative that allowed more experienced nurses to directly enter the Army and Navy. The Cadet Corps was heavily recruited - there was even a David O. Selznick-produced recruitment film starring Oscar-nominated actress Dorothy McGuire. We were truly "a nation at war." Those joining the Corps were required to take an oath, and they were given gray and regimental red uniforms to wear.
Over the past few decades, several bills have been filed in Congress to rectify the oversight. All have died in committee. The latest, U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Equity Act, was introduced last February and caused nary a ripple before the House Veterans Affairs Committee shunted it off to a military personnel subcommittee in late March.
"To me, that is just unjust," said Bruce Tarr, the Gloucester Republican and Massachusetts Senate minority leader. Tarr is working with other local legislators such as state Rep. Brad Hill of Ipswich to bring more attention to the issue.
While a state bill is a possibility, Tarr said, "the primary driver of veterans benefits is the federal government." It would be far more effective for a member of Congress - like Marine veteran Seth Moulton - to take up the cause.
Tarr and Hill both planned to honor a local veteran of the Cadet Nurse Corps, Mary Malone of Hamilton, at an upcoming event.
Malone enlisted in the corps in 1945. Now 94, she still remembers nursing returning soldiers "who were hurt so badly."
"They never wanted to go home," Malone said recently. "They didn't want their parents or their relatives or their neighbors to feel sorry for them."
Maybe that's why it has been so difficult to gain the nurses the recognition they so richly deserve. Like many from that era, they see their service as part of their duty to their country and have only recently begun sharing their stories.
There is precedent. Women in services such as the Women's Air Service Corps attained veteran status in the 1970s and were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in 2010. The women of the Cadet Corps made sacrifices of their own. It is time their efforts are recognized.