JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A lead supporter of federal legislation to honor the women who served as nurses during World War II says she’s all but given up hope.

“It doesn’t seem hopeful at all at this point,” said Barbara Poremba, founder of the group Friends of the U.S. Cadet Nurses Corps. “They’ve sort of shoved it off to the side.”

Poremba says with the 117th session of the U.S. Congress ending soon, a bill has stalled that would grant the few surviving World War II Cadet Nurses honorary veterans status.

“They’re not asking for any benefits. They’re only asking to remembered with a plaque on their grave and an American flag,” Poremba said.

Poremba who’s from Massachusetts thinks support from U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) would make a difference. Blackburn is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Poremba said the bill has stalled in the Senate because it’s yet to gain enough co-sponsors.

“Had we had the support – the real support – of Senator Marsha Blackburn, I’m confident this would have passed,” she said. “But it takes that kind of courage from both sides to get something like this passed.”

Congress created the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps to deal with a critical nursing shortage at U.S. hospitals during World War II. Cadets – some of them teenagers – signed up promising to serve and train as long as the war lasted.

“The Cadet Nurses wore military uniforms,” Poremba said. “They worked for the (U.S.) government for three years, pledging their service in a time when women were not wanted in the military.”

In Johnson City, three Cadet Nurses are still living: Trudy Fann, Juanita Chandler, and Agnes Lowe.

Cadet Nurses rest during a day of care at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California. (Trudy Fann collection)
Juanita Chandler (center, rear) poses with nursing school graduates during her training for the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. (Photo: Juanita Chandler)
Agnes Lowe continues to ask Congress to grant the U.S. Cadet Nurses Corps honorary veteran status.

But even if Congress did act this session, Mary Schofield Maione won’t be around to see it. The Cadet Nurse from Massachusetts who inspired Poremba to push Congress for honorary veteran status died on Aug. 30.

“She never quite understood why our country would not recognize the unique and meaningful role that the women who served in the Cadet Nurses Corps had in World War II,” Poremba said.

Mary Schofield Maione died in August at the age of 98. She inspired Barbara Poremba to take action. “She never quite understood why Congress wouldn’t support this,” Poremba said. (Photo: Barbara Poremba) 

A spokesman for Senator Marsha Blackburn previously told News Channel 11 she supported the bill, but she hasn’t joined as a co-sponsor.

“Supporting is not saying, ‘Oh I support you,'” Poremba said. “Words are very cheap. You have to stand behind those words by being a co-sponsor.”

If the bill doesn’t get a vote before Congress adjourns on Jan. 3, the process will have to begin again to draft the legislation and move it through committees in Congress.

“Unfortunately, that means you start all over again from step one,” Poremba said.

News Channel 11 has asked Senator Blackburn if she will sign on as a co-sponsor before the end of the session, and we’re awaiting her response.