JOHNSON CITY, Tenn (WJHL) — Even though dementia has dimmed the memory of 99-year-old Trudy Fann, she is a living reminder of a chapter of World War II that some say has been forgotten.
“For me she was always larger than life,” said Julie Fann, Trudy’s daughter. “In so many ways, my mother is my inspiration.”
Trudy Fann was born in poverty on the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina, an enlisted member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.
By 1941, Fann was enrolled at Bacone College for North American Indians in Muskogee, Oklahoma, when the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, changed the course of her life.
“She had wanted to be a teacher but when that happened she wanted to be a nurse and serve her country,” Julie Fann said of her mother.
After nursing training in Knoxville, the Corps deployed Fann across the country to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California which opened during World War II specifically for the purpose of treating wounded and sick American military personnel.
There, Fann provided life-saving medical care to America’s wounded soldiers.
“There was about 8,000 patients there, so she saw everything,” Fann said. “One story that sticks out in my mind is a man she took care of whose tongue had been shot out. My mother said he couldn’t speak except to make noises, so he wrote her notes and told her, ‘Thank you for taking care of me.'”
Fann said her mother didn’t question whether she was a part of the military response to World War II.
“She was definitely part of the military,” Fann said of her mother. “She wore a military uniform. They had a summer uniform and a winter uniform. And she was there when the war ended.”
After the war, Trudy Fann moved got married and settled in Johnson City where she was a VA nurse for almost 30 years.
Julie Fann says her mother never understood why she and the estimated 124,000 other women who enlisted and served in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps were never acknowledged as veterans for their service in World War II.
“She wished Cadet Nurses had been recognized more by the federal government because she recognized the work they did was very important, and she felt her service to her country really mattered whether it was recognized formally or not,” Fann said. “It was something she was very proud of.”
Legislation to honor the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps survivors repeatedly has failed to pass. This week, U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) said he thinks the bill should be debated by the full Senate.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is the sponsor of S. 1220. The companion bill H.R. 2568 is sponsored by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois).