JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Time is running out.
That’s the message from Dr. Barbara Poremba, director of the non-profit group “Friends of the United States Cadet Nurse Corps World War II”.
Poremba, a Massachusetts-based nurse and professor, started the group in 2018 after learning for the first time about the Cadet Nurse Corps, a division of the US Public Health Service started in 1943 during an emergency shortage of nurses on the home front.
She calls them “the forgotten veterans” of World War II.
“These women – most of them teenagers – stepped up and saved the country from a complete collapse of the health care system,” Poremba said. “There was never a shortage of nurses in our American history like there was in World War II.”
The group’s mission is to pass what’s called the “US Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act” to grant honorary veteran status to Cadet Nurse Corps members.
“They’re not asking for money or benefits, just the chance to be honored for the service they gave the country in a time of war,” she said.
The legislation has come close to passing in the past couple of years only to be removed in the US Senate from the National Defense Authorization Act, Poremba said.
After seeing News Channel 11’s earlier reports on the Cadet Nurse Corps survivors like Agnes Lowe of Johnson City, Rep. Diana Harshbarger immediately joined as a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“She personally called Cadet Nurse Agnes Lowe and told her this, and Agnes was just overjoyed with the phone call,” Poremba said.
Poremba says she hopes for the same response from Sen. Marsha Blackburn who is a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
“Senator Blackburn is extremely influential,” Poremba said. “People respect her, and her support on this is critical.”
Blackburn’s spokesman would not say if she would be willing to co-sponsor the bill but did tell News Channel 11:
“Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs to bring this legislation to a vote on the Senate floor. We appreciate all who served in the Cadet Nurse Corp, which is why Senator Blackburn supported this bill in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. We hope Schumer will honor these nurses with this well-deserved recognition.”
Spokesperson for Sen. Marsha Blackburn
Poremba said she was thrilled to hear of Blackburn’s support and its passage out of committee, but she says she’s worried that won’t be enough.
“It’s very important that she not just say she supports the bill but is on the record as a co-sponsor,” Poremba said. “Having her on the record as a co-sponsor is far more important than just having her words of saying she supports it.”
Blackburn recently announced she is a co-sponsor of another bill called “The Women Who Worked on the Homefront Act” to establish a new memorial in Washington DC.
A news release from Blackburn on July 27 said the legislation, “will create a new memorial to honor the contributions of the estimated 18 million women who helped keep our nation’s economy and society running during World War II by working as pilots, engineers, taxi drivers , letter carriers, and code breakers.”
“That’s sort of the ‘Rosie the Riveter Bill,’” Poremba said. “I think it’s wonderful. But doesn’t even mention the Cadet Nurses. So we’re not mentioned in the Homefront Memorial, and we can’t get recognition as honorary veterans. So I’m really confused.”
Poremba says time is running out to grant honorary veteran status to Cadet Nurse Corps survivors for two reasons.
Congress ends its current term in December. “After that, the legislation has to start the process of winning support and going through committees all over again,” she said.
And there’s another reason.
“The Cadet Nurses are all in their late 90’s, and they have just been waiting and waiting and waiting,” she said. “And in the meantime, we’re losing them. And many have said, ‘Barb, they’re just waiting for us to die and go away.'”
A spokesman for Sen. Blackburn referred further questions about the “US Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act” to Sen. Elizabethton Warren of Massachusetts, the lead sponsor of the bill.
Requests for comment from Sen. Warren and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York) have not been answered.