WESTFIELD, NJ — Diana Taylor, a resident of Westfield since the 1960s, had not yet graduated high school when, during World War II, she joined the United States Cadet Nurse Corps, the country’s first integrated uniformed US Service Corps. Taylor and other women were trained as nurses and staffed American hospitals during the tremendous nursing shortage caused by the war.
While other women’s groups who served in military support capacities during World War II have been granted veteran status, benefits and the honor of formal recognition, members of the US Cadet Nurses Corps have not.
“I just feel that we deserve it just as much as the other military, because we worked hard,” said Taylor. “Everyone got honored but us.”
Now Congressman Leonard Lance (R-NJ-07) has taken up her cause, joining Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York in reintroducing The United States Cadet Nurse Corps Equity Act in the 114th Congress.
In a letter Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Lance wrote, “The legacy of the US Cadet Nurse Corps is felt by all Americans but understood by few. Many cadet nurses were deployed to Army, Navy, Public Health facilities and Indian health agencies during their senior cadet service. As a result, World War II military veterans came home to a strong health care system and were provided critical care by cadet nurses.”
Lance wrote that he believes the Department of Defense can emphasize this issue by including the US Cadet Nurse Corps on the list of Special Groups of Veterans. Thirty four groups have already been certified as active military service, he said.
Until now, Taylor felt that her cause was ignored. For more than 10 years she has written letters, and she said the only person who wrote back to her was President Obama.
“I don’t think the people on the committees ever read it,” she said.
As one of the youngest to serve, the 87-year-old great-grandmother is one of few surviving cadet nurses left to speak out on their behalf.
“Pretty soon there won’t be anyone left to fight for it,” she said.
After the war, Taylor went on to continue her work as a nurse, earning her masters from Rutgers University, and she raised four children. Now she has six grandchildren and two great grandchildren. In 2011, she was given a Union County Women of Excellence award for a lifetime of achievement.
Through it all, she hasn’t forgotten the women she served with while she was still a teen.
“We promised the cadet nurses we’d work on this forever,” she said.