JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Juanita Chandler’s father thought it was a good idea. And at age 17, she was ready for an adventure.
“I was up for doing what I could,” she said about the decision to enlist in the United States Cadet Nurses Corps in 1943.
World War II was raging, the country faced a shortage of nurses on the home front, and Chandler said she knew that enlisting was a way she could really help.
“What would you do without nurses?” she said.
And there was one other reason to sign up to serve.
“Well I just thought the uniform looked really nice,” she said with a laugh.
Juanita Chandler was one of about 124,000 young women who enlisted in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, making the commitment to train as a nurse for three years and serve for six months as a senior cadet nurse at a military or civilian hospital where the need was greatest as determined by the government.
“It was something that was going to be helpful to not only the immediate area but everywhere,” Chandler said. “The war was awful. The war was terrible. Nobody likes war.”
Chandler said she and the other Cadet Nurses Corps members knew that signing up meant going where you’re told.
“My father used to tell my mother, ‘Now, Juanita might have to go across the big pond,'” she said. “And Momma would get upset about it. But I was willing to go. I was willing to serve.”
But like many in training in the final days of the war, Chandler never got the assignment to serve in a hospital as a senior cadet nurse.
“I was legally enrolled and legally ready to go and willing to go, but that didn’t happen,” she said.
That doesn’t mean Chandler didn’t use her Cadet Nurse Corps training. She went on to be a nurse for more than 30 years in Johnson City spending much of that time in cardiac care.
“That was my real joy,” she said.
But despite volunteering to serve in a time of war, she and others who enlisted in the Cadet Nurse Corps were told they did not meet the criteria to be considered military veterans. Multiple legislative efforts to grant them honorary veteran status have been unsuccessful, despite the fact the request involves no payment of veterans benefits.
Chandler thinks that’s wrong.
“Well, it kind of infuriates me,” she said. “These people in Congress that have the power to do things – I think it’s time for them to step up and do it. I think it’s time for them to sign the bill and honor us.”
And Chandler, who is now 96 years old, hopes Congress acts fast.
“A lot of us are getting older now,” she said. “And if we’re ever going to recognize them, now’s the time.”