JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — In 1943, America was facing a crisis at home and around the world.
World War II was raging. Decisive victories were yet to be won. On the home front, another crisis loomed in America’s hospitals.
There weren’t enough nurses to care for veterans and civilians.
“All of the RN’s that had been currently working had gone into service,” said Agnes Lowe of Johnson City.
The 96-year-old retired nurse says she first learned about the need for nurses as a young woman in rural East Tennessee when posters started to appear on post office walls and appeals started to be heard on local radio imploring young women who wanted to help in the war effort to enlist, wear a military uniform and serve in a brand new government-run organization – the U.S. Cadet Nurses Corps.
“They wanted help, and I went and helped in the only way I knew how to do it,” Lowe said. “That’s what the government asked us to do, and we did it.”
Lowe, along with an estimated 124,000 young women, left their homes across the country and devoted their lives to becoming nurses. Three years of training led Lowe to a six-month term of service as a senior cadet nurse assigned to the Veterans Affairs Mountain Home Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, where she and her colleagues cared for veterans. Some of those veterans were still getting care after World War I and others were fresh from the battlefront in a war still raging on the other side of the world.
“We served our country,” Lowe said of herself and her fellow Cadet Nurses. “That’s the theory I go by.”
After the war, the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corp was dissolved. Lowe stayed in Johnson City and used her nurse training to build a career while raising a family of her own.
She’s campaigned for years to help the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corp win veterans status – a fight that continues now in her 96th year of life.
“I think we deserve it because we answered the call,” she said.
Regardless, she says she’s proud to have served a country she loves.
“I consider myself a veteran, even though we’ve never been granted veteran status,” she said.