LONG BEACH - Travels to Scotland and Ireland, the sudden loss of a child, witnessing official recognition of her Yurok tribe, and the charm of San Francisco are just some of the many reminiscent tales Long Beach resident Gloria MacNeill has to share from her 84 years of life. No matter the topic, it seems that Gloria speaks from her heart - and most often with a twinkle in her eye.
But last week, Gloria was eager to share stories with the Observer for reasons other than just their entertainment value. Gloria wished to share her experiences serving as a cadet nurse during World War II, in hopes of gaining support for her own passionate cause - persuading Congress to recognize cadet nurses for their service on the home front during a time of war.
The Cadet Nurse Corps was developed in 1943 as a result of a nursing shortage during World War II. A government program supervised by the United States Public Health Service, the Cadet Nurse Corps provided women with training to become nurses in hospitals, the armed forces and anywhere else their skills were needed.
A member of the Yurok Indian Tribe, Gloria attended Sherman Institute, an Indian school near Riverside, Calif. As a high school student, she enrolled in an institutional baking and cooking class. Her culinary skills were put to the test when she was hired to cook at Norco Naval Hospital, where she helped prepare a meal for President Roosevelt.
"Steak, carrots, potatoes - I can't remember what else we had for him," she laughs.
Eventually she had made enough money from cooking, and in 1943 she moved to San Francisco, Calif., and attended City College of San Francisco's nursing program with 30 other ladies.
"I wanted to be a nurse, so they put me in a hospital in a jazzy little green uniform," she remembers with a grin.
Gloria eventually went on to receive additional nurse training at Franklin Hospital School of Nursing in San Francisco.
"We were in training of course and we had to go through all the different services, like operating room, passing instruments, and let's see, we served on the obstetrical duty, that was fun," she recalls, sitting at the kitchen table at Circle of Life Adult Family Home. "And of course we did surgical nursing on surgical floors and medical nursing, and just generally learning to become a nurse. And then there were the bedpans ..."
Online information from New York's Rochester General Hospital explains, "Members of the Cadet Nurse Corps were required to complete their training within 30 months instead of the traditional 36 months. 'Pre-Cadets,' traditionally known as 'Probies,' were in the first nine months of their training. 'Junior Cadets' were in the middle 21 months of their schooling and 'served while they learned' by attending classes and then applying their book learning in the medical, surgical, obstetric, and pediatric wards. During the final period of training, members of the Corps were known as 'Senior Cadets.' These students were placed where they were most needed, many in civilian, Federal or military hospitals. Other students spent their Senior Cadet period in the Indian, Public Health or Rural Health Services."
$10 a month, room and board "We got $10 a month and room and board," she remembers. "Then we got $20 per month for the next six months. In our third year, we got $30 a month. After graduation we were expected to enroll in the Army or Navy, but I didn't do that. I chose to specialize in operating. I loved the blood and guts! I loved the operating room, just loved it - sometimes being in the operating room for 18 hours straight, and I loved every minute of it. We were on call and that's just what you did ... It was hard work, but it was interesting to learn skills for taking care of people."
While on duty, Gloria and the other cadet nurses wore blue uniforms; their dress uniforms consisted of a gray skirt and jacket with a Montgomery beret.
When asked how becoming a nurse had changed her daily life, Gloria quips, "Regimented! And very interesting ... I was on shift by 7 a.m. and worked a six and a half day week, and then the union stepped in and cut it down to five days. There were one or two registered nurses per every 30 patients on the floor, and the students helped fill in and do the dirty work. I don't know what they would've done without Cadet Corps - I don't know if the hospitals could've stayed open."
According to Gloria's son, Murray, his mom secretly eloped with his dad, John MacNeill, while she was still in nursing school. The pair hopped on a Harley in the middle of the night and headed to Nevada for their nuptials.
"Nursing schools were residential and you weren't allowed to be married," Murray explains. "Things were not as they are now."
Some of her more notable cadet nurse memories include Madame Chiang Kai-shek's stay at the hospital while Gloria was still a nursing student, as well as sneaking past the FBI standing guard at a patient's room to see what all the fuss was about.
"Once I got past the FBI because I wanted to know what was going on in the room. This is when they had oxygen in the tanks. They came out to get a new tank, and I happened to be working floor duty. So I brought a new tank, and they tried to take the tank from me. And I said, 'No, I need to take this in and get it set up' and sneaked in," she giggles. It turned out that the patient in question was a prisoner.
She was 21 years old when the war ended, and soon was married with six sons. She continued to work in the operating room and says she had "the good fortune to know the right people." Those connections proved to be beneficial - she was hired as the director of nurses at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue. She later helped with the architectural planning and opening of Stevens Hospital in Edmonds in the early 1960s, when she got to cut the ribbon with then Gov. Al Rosellini at the grand opening ceremony. Eventually, she and her husband retired to the Peninsula, where she helped start the Ocean Beach Hospital Auxiliary.
Unfortunately, Gloria says she hasn't seen any of her fellow cadet nurses since they met for a 50-year reunion celebration. And though many have long since passed away, Gloria says she's dedicated to getting the recognition she feels each of them deserves for serving their country at a time of war. Her passion is shared by others throughout the country, many are fighting for passage of a resolution that would grant former cadet nurses veteran status.
Looking for recognition In March 2009, U.S. Representative Nita Lowey, of New York's 18th Congressional District, presented HR 1522, which aims to "provide that service of the members of the organization known as the United States Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II constituted active military service for purposes of laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs." The resolution stated that the eligible U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps service period would be from July 1, 1943 through Dec. 15, 1945.
The last recorded action was May 21, 2009, when HR 1522 was the topic of a legislative hearing before Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, a subcommittee of the House of Representatives' Veterans' Affairs Committee.
During that hearing, Rep. Lowey stated, "Sixty-six years after the end of World War II, recognition parallel to their great sacrifice and commitment has not been given to the cadet nurses. At a time when our country has been called to serve by our new administration, it is fitting to adequately express our gratitude to those who have served our country during one of the most challenging eras. With few opportunities to serve in the military, many young women joined the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II to fill the domestic nursing shortage in our country. HR 1522 will ensure that the many women who served our country the best way they could receive the acknowledgment of veteran status that they deserve. Other women's groups who served in World War II have rightfully been granted veteran status and benefits. Despite the historic and patriotic contributions, the women of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps have been forgotten. The legacy of the Cadet Nurse Corps is manifold, 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 services. As a result, World War II military veterans came home to a strong health care system and were provided critical care by cadet nurses. In order to properly recognize their patriotism, the cadets should be designated as veterans."
Also during the hearing, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Associate National Legislative Director John Wilson said in a statement, "...The DAV has no resolution on this bill. It also falls outside the scope of our organization's mission. However, we have no objection to its favorable consideration."
Veterans Benefits Administration Compensation and Pension Service Director Bradley Mayes spoke on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which seemed to have a different take on the resolution.
"Congress, in 1977, set up an administrative mechanism for the consideration of requests by various civilian groups to qualify for benefits historically provided to veterans of the Armed Forces proper," Mayes explained. "Congress created this process to discourage the use of the legislative process to make such determinations. This bill would effectively override that deliberative process. Title IV of Public Law 95-202, that authorized the Secretary of Defense to review applications to confer veteran status upon groups who rendered assistance to the Armed Forces in capacities which at the time were considered civilian employment or contractual service.
"In reviewing such applications, the Secretary of Defense considers the factors set out in the law, which include the extent to which a group's members were subject to military justice, discipline and control, the extent to which members were permitted to resign, their susceptibility to assignment for duty in a combat zone, and the extent to which they had reasonable expectations that participation would be considered active military service. At least twice the Secretary of Defense has accepted the unanimous recommendations of a review board that participation in the Cadet Nurse Corps alone is not sufficient to establish veteran status. VA accepts those recommendations and believes that the review process that was established by Public Law 95-202 works well and should not be circumvented."
No success since 1995 Similar bills regarding cadet nurse status have been submitted to Congress since 1995, and none have reached passage. But Gloria refuses to give up hope that one day the women from her generation will be honored for their part in the war effort.
"I think that all these young ladies that devoted their lives to the country deserve to be recognized," she explains. "I think it needs national coverage and needs attention from congress and the government, just so we get recognized. I think Oregon and Washington are two states that have not promoted the bill."
She continues, "I don't want anything out of it, but just for these young women who dedicated three - and in some cases five - years and deserve recognition by the country. We're all 80-plus, and many of us are already gone. Just think how interesting it would be to meet the people that did that ... Get the bill in front of Congress, in front of the American Public, because I think all the people who serve deserved to be recognized - if only on paper."