Japanese American Health Care Workers During WWII


“I have been asked by some the reason for my joining the Cadet Nurse Corps, and I have given it some serious thought. My older brother at 19 years of age had joined the 442nd Infantry and was in Italy in 1944. Why did he volunteer for the Army when his family was incarcerated? Why did I join the United States Nurse Corps? We were motivated by the deep conviction that our lives were forever American and that we could prove our loyalty by being who we were.”

-Kaoru Morita Ehara, Cadet Nurse Corps

As WWII raged on, the US military experienced a massive shortage of nurses. As a solution, the Bolton Act of 1943 authorized the US Public Health Service to establish the US Cadet Nurse Corps. The Cadet Nurse Corps was non-military and provided free education in nursing programs across the country in an abbreviated 30 month period. In exchange, Cadet Nurses were obligated to provide nursing services for the duration of the war. Because the Cadet Nurse Corps program only existed for about 27 months, a majority of the students did not graduate until after WWII. The program still provided free education to those already in the program after the war. Overall, the Cadet Nurse Corps trained approximately 124,000 nurses.

It is estimated that 350 Japanese American women pursued nursing through the Cadet Nurse Corps. The program actively recruited Nisei women from the concentration camps with the promise of free education. The Cadet Nurse Corps program maintained a policy of anti-discrimination and was open to all women. Although the program was open to all students, many nursing schools refused to admit Japanese American students. Kay Shida Tsukuno recalled being rejected from schools in the Midwest and East Coast as she applied from the Jerome concentration camp. Eventually, she was accepted into a program at the University of Minnesota. Saint Marys School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota admitted the most Nisei students with a total of 42.

This advertisement for US Cadet Nurse Corps from 1945 promotes the free education women received with the program. UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
An article from the Heart Mountain Sentinel in the September 11, 1943 edition lets incarcerees know about the Cadet Nurse Corps opportunity. Library of Congress

The Cadet Nurse Corps was a non-military program, but many of these students saw nursing as an avenue to serve their country. 

In April of 2019, Elizabeth Warren introduced the US Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act, which would grant honorary veteran status to Cadet Nurses. 

In addition to recognizing the Cadet Nurse Corps as part of the military, the bill would provide honorable discharges, ribbon and medal privileges, and certain burial privileges. Click here to see the current status of the act.

Teruko Yamashita

“With the uncertainty about my future, the Cadet Nurse Program was not only education, it was free! It was a dream come true! It was also a way to serve my country during the war.”

-Teruko Yamashita, Cadet Nurse Corps

Teruko Yamashita was a senior in High School incarcerated in Gila River in Arizona when she learned of the Cadet Nurse Corps program. Teruko enrolled in Saint Marys School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota. After graduation, she worked in the hospital emergency room in Rochester.

Photo of Teruko Yamashita in her Cadet Nurse uniform and her US Cadet Nurse Corps Membership Card. Saint Marys Nursing School Archives
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