EDITORIAL: Time to honor the Cadet Nurse Corps

Apr. 23—It is long past time for the United States to recognize the contribution made by the nation's young nurses to winning the Second World War.

It was the U.S. Congress, after all, that created the Cadet Nurse Corps in 1943 to fill a critical health care shortage at home. Over the course of the war, almost 125,000 young women worked to ease the shortage of nurses stateside. By 1945, they were providing 80% of the country's nursing care, including caring for wounded soldiers and seamen returning from the war. The nation's wartime health care system would have collapsed without them.

Once the war ended, however, the country forgot about the nurses. Unlike others who sacrificed for the war effort — military veterans and civilians alike — they have never received national recognition for their efforts.

That is why we are glad to see U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., re-introducing her bill, first filed in 2018, to acknowledge the Corps. U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, is expected to be among those restarting the effort in the House.

Warren's bill, whose cosponsors include Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, both of Maine, would give cadet nurses honorary veterans' status, honorable discharges, a service medal and a burial plaque or grave marker. It would provide no financial or health care benefits, nor would it allow for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Massachusetts last year passed legislation honoring the more than 900 women who served in the Corps, naming July 1 "United States Cadet Nurse Corps Day" and requiring that a plaque honoring their service be installed at the Statehouse.

"No longer are these women hidden figures," Barbara Poremba, retired professor of nursing at Salem State University and director of the Friends of the United States Cadet Nurse Corps, said after the state legislation passed last summer. "People should know what these young women did when their country needed them most."

During the war, the average age of the cadet nurses was 19. Those who remain are in their 90s. Congress must move now to honor their vital contribution to pushing back the tide of fascism.