Legislation filed to grant veterans status to WWII nurse corps

A WWII poster advertising the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.


By ARIANNA MACNEILL | The Salem News (Tribune News Servce) | Published: January 19, 2018

HAMILTON — Mary Maione served as a wartime nurse during World War II, taking care of wounded soldiers sent stateside from the front lines in Europe.

But while those wounded men were honored as veterans and receive the benefits owed to them, Maione is not recognized as a veteran for her service with the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.

While multiple bills have gone before federal lawmakers to give the cadet nurses their status as veterans, none have passed. The latest, H.R. 1168, the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Equity Act, was introduced in February of last year, and the U.S. House of Representatives' veterans affairs committee sent it to a military personnel subcommittee in late March.

The cadet nurses remain the only uniformed corps members in World War II to not be recognized as veterans, according to a website that honors the program.

Maione and her family, as well as state Sen. Bruce Tarr, hope the bill will finally be passed.

"To me, that is just unjust," Tarr said, adding that he hopes to mount support for the federal bill and that he "would be happy to" work on state legislation. "We're exploring our options for that right now."

While a state bill would help, he said, the "primary driver of veterans benefits is the federal government."

At the local level, Tarr and state Rep. Brad Hill plan to recognize Maione at an upcoming Hamilton selectmen's meeting.

Almost 94 now, Maione recalled that her entrance into nursing, more than 70 years ago, was by chance.

Having grown up in Ipswich and then Hamilton, she would take the train or bus to the General Electric plant in Lynn. There, she worked 3 to 11 p.m. helping to assemble parts for airplane panels.

"I was always early (to work)," she noted.

Maione had graduated high school, and she was expected to get a job afterward due to her family's financial situation. However, her dream since the first grade was to go to nursing school.

One fateful day, Maione, on her way to work, decided to skip her regular stop at GE and instead ended up at Lynn Hospital. It happened to be visiting hours, and Maione ventured in where she spoke with the hospital superintendent. Maione told her she always wanted to be a nurse.

The superintendent walked Maione toward the hospital's nursing school. She handed her an application for the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.

The corps was established by an act of Congress in 1943, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was operational until 1948. The goal was to train a new workforce and alleviate a critical shortage of nurses during the war. The corps was supervised by the United States Public Health Service.

The training program packaged everything in nursing school into 30 months instead of the typical 36. All tuition and fees were paid for through acceptance to the corps. Students also were given a monthly stipend — $15 for the first nine months, $20 for the next 20 months, and $30 a month for the last six months.

By 1945 — when Maione signed up — the cadet nurses made up 80 percent of nurses in the country's hospitals, according to the website.

Maione's application was the ticket into nursing she needed. It cost $5 to take the admission test and she happened to have that exact amount with her the day she walked into Lynn Hospital.

She filled out the application that day and went right to the post office to mail it, recalling with a smile that she was 10 minutes late to work. She passed the exam and was accepted into the corps.

Lynn Hospital was one of the teaching centers for the program and all the trainees lived on-site. School life was strict, Maione said. She kept pamphlets detailing how she should look and how to properly wear her uniform.

"Your uniform in gray and regimental red, has finally arrived, and you are the proudest girl serving your country today," the pamphlet reads.

Cadet nurses were also warned they should be careful when washing their summer uniforms. "Never let your summer uniforms be starched," one line reads in bold.

Jewelry, other than engagement, wedding or school class rings, was prohibited. Long finger nails, as well as chewing gum, were also frowned upon.

Lights went out at 10:30 p.m., but Maione and others would climb in a closet with a flashlight to stay up and study for exams, she said.

Caring for patients "who were hurt so badly," was the most rewarding part of her job, Maione said. Soldiers would receive some treatment abroad, but were quickly sent home for more extensive treatment.

"They never wanted to go home," she said. "They didn't want their parents or their relatives or their neighbors to feel sorry for them."

Maione graduated from the school in 1947, and then spent a six-month assignment at a veterans hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Returning home, she spent the next four decades continuing to work as a nurse, most of her career at the former Cable hospital in Ipswich.

"I never regret making the change," she said of her nursing career.

Maione married and had three daughters. Her career after the war spanned many other pivotal moments in history.

She remembers not being allowed to tend to black patients other than to administer medication. The rest of their care was given by black attendants, she said.

"I think the thing that bothered me most was that I'd go to get in the bus, they'd get up and give me that seat," she said. "Those are the things that bothered me."

For Marcia Maione, the youngest of the three daughters, she's enjoyed learning about her mom's career over the years.

"I'm very proud," she said. "It's been fun to learn about my mom and everything she's done."

©2018 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.)
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