Agnes Lowe is on a mission. The retired nurse is asking Congress to recognize her and other former members of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps as veterans of World War II.
She doesn’t want proclamations, medals or medical benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Lowe simply wants nurse cadets given credit for their service to the country with an honorable discharge and veteran burial status.
“We have never been given veteran status,” said Lowe, who was among the first to join the Cadet Nurses Corps when it was created in 1943. “We continue to be the only uniformed group that served during the war that has not been called veterans.”
Lowe, 93, keeps photos and other memorabilia of her days in the corps in her apartment at Brookdale Senior Living in Johnson City. She speaks fondly of her time in the corps, and is often honored for her service at local events.
She was recently recognized at the Washington County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Johnson City, and has been asked to participate in an event on Aug. 31 in Elizabethton to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“There are so many people who haven’t heard of the Cadet Nurses Corps,” Lowe said earlier this month. “There are veterans who haven’t heard of us. I’m working hard to fix that.”
Her friends and employees at Brookdale are lending a hand. Diane Savicky, the resident program director at the facility, said she and others are “doing what we can” to compile petitions to be sent to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn asking they support HR2056/SR997 granting veteran status to nurse cadets.
Answering The Call
Lowe grew up the youngest of seven children on a farm in Cocke County. One of her siblings was a nurse, and Lowe wanted to follow in her older sister’s footsteps.
Many nurses, including Lowe’s sister, joined the military during World War II. This created a serious shortage of nurses on the home front.
That’s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the U.S. Cadet Nurses Corps. Lowe said she was “one of the 130,000 women who answered the call.”
The corps paid cadets $115 a month to help cover the cost of their uniforms and books, and required participants to enlist in military service once their training was completed.
The last six months of their training were to be spent in an Army or a Veterans Administration hospital. Lowe was among the 30 who chose the Mountain Home VA facility in Johnson City to complete their nursing education. While there she met her first husband, Finley Penick, a Navy veteran.
Senior cadets were responsible for nearly 80 percent of the nursing care delivered on the home front.
Lowe went to Fort Sanders Hospital in Knoxville after her stint at the VA to complete her cadet service. The war ended before her graduation, and Lowe was no longer obligated to join the military.
Lowe continued to work in the nursing profession for more than 40 years. Some of that time was spent as a private duty nurse after her husband was killed in a traffic accident, leaving her with two young children to support.
Lowe later remarried and put her nursing experience to use at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital at Mountain Home, where she retired in 1986 after working for 22 years.
Reaching Out To Congress
Lowe has contacted Tennessee’s delegation in Congress to ask for their support of legislation to give nurse cadets their due. She said the feedback she’s received from their offices has not been as encouraging as she hoped.
“We’ll just keep working on it,” Lowe said of the bill, noting the American Nurses Association and Veterans of Foreign Wars are two prominent national organizations supporting it.
When reached by the Press, Alexander‘s office responded the state’s senior senator “looks forward to reviewing the legislation” when it clears the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Likewise, Blackburn’s office stated she also “looks forward to reviewing it in-depth” as a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Roe’s office released a statement from the 1st District congressman pointing out the U.S. Nurse Cadet Corps “served an incredibly valuable role while World War II was raging on, helping to ensure that U.S.civilian health care needs were met until the war’s end.”
He also said: “There is a process already established for groups receiving veteran status, and I think that is the proper way for groups to apply for veteran status, Should the majority bring this legislation forward, I look forward to learning more about their eligibility for veteran status.”
Roe’s office in Kingsport can be reached by phone at 247-8161, or by email by going to his website at roe.house.gov.
Alexander’s field office in Blountville can be reached by phone at 325-6240, or by email by going to his website at alexander.senate.gov.
Blackburn’s field office in Jonesborough can be reached by phone at 753-4009, or by email by going to her website at blackburn.senate.gov.