Honoring the life and legacy of Rose Mary Tyndall and The United States Cadet Nurse Corps
As the 24 familiar notes of "Taps" played overhead, Rose Mary Tyndall found herself at a crossroads. Having lost her mother earlier that same year, and now standing in a military cemetery saying one last goodbye to her husband, Tyndall found herself with a choice to make.
"When something like that happens, you have to have something worthwhile to do or you can lose your grip on life," Tyndall says.
It was 1990 and Tyndall was 66 years old. After a lifetime spent working in healthcare, she decided to start work on a book that would attempt to rectify an oversight of the United States military.
The Nurse Training Act
The prologue of her book begins, "We held hands with life and death." In the book, Tyndall, now 92, reminisces over the plethora of hands she held and once comforted as a young nurse in New York during World War II, and in the fallout thereafter.
Today, from the comforts of her home at Eagle Crest, an independent senior living community in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, she's finishing her book and plans to submit it to a publisher soon. The book details life as a nurse in The United States Cadet Nurse Corps, a service corps established in 1943 by the federal government. Up until 1948, the corps trained women ages 17–35 during the war to provide nursing care, both on the home front and abroad.
"The book tries to present a very complete picture of what it was like to be a cadet, what it was like to be in World War II and what it was like to handle such things as young people," Tyndall says. "When I ask people to read some of my chapters today, they start to cry."
The cadet nurse corps were founded under The Nurse Training Act, which appropriated $160 million to 1,125 nursing schools all over the country and produced 124,065 nursing graduates of every ethnicity. Cadets like Tyndall signed a pledge that vowed they would stay in the corps for the duration of the war and six months beyond Armistice Day.
In 1945, then Surgeon General Dr. Thomas Parran reported, "The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps has been highly successful...Our best estimates are that students are giving 80 percent of the nursing in their associated hospitals. By replacing nurses who already have gone into the military, The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps have prevented a collapse of the nursing care in hospitals."
Answering the call
Tyndall developed an interest in nursing long before the war.
"I was in an automobile accident when I was six and admitted to the hospital," she says. "It was because of a lovely nurse there that I became interested in nursing."
Eleven years later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States actively joined the war. Across the nation, women like Tyndall reinvigorated wartime efforts by 'answering the call,' thereby transforming industries as wide-ranging as shipbuilding to healthcare.
Tyndall joined the cadet nurse corp in 1944. While she was studying at Bellevue-New York University, her husband was stationed in Germany, serving as an X-ray tech in the Army.
As a nurse, Tyndall worked across the state of New York, serving in psychiatric wards and helping patients with polio, measles and more.
"We were brand new graduate nurses and we served every day, evening and night across the country, taking care of people in all levels of sickness and health," Tyndall says of her fellow cadets.
Despite the wartime pledge of service, the federally-issued uniform, and the number of services they provided, cadet nurse corps have never been recognized as veterans.
"Nurse cadets prevented the total collapse of healthcare during the war, so you see it was a total walk in the park," Tyndall says with her signature New York accent and laugh. "Justice delayed is justice denied. I'm interested in getting cadets the recognition they deserve as veterans, not just as students, for their contributions to World War II.
In her book, she highlights cadet services and makes the argument that the 124,065 women who went through the program continued to transform the entire U.S. healthcare system throughout their careers, even after wartime efforts had ended.
Tyndall says the corps set the stage for her prominent career in nursing, a profession she continued with until 1974. In that time span, she received her doctorate in teaching and administration, became a nurse midwife, and worked as the dean of a nursing college.
It wasn't until recently that she began writing her book again.
When asked by fellow residents why she chose to finish writing a book in her 90s, she explains,"it's never too late to do something great."
Rose Mary Tyndall is working with a publisher to release her book at a later date. Check back at for news of her triumph, and to read more inspiring stories about our senior residents and our commitment to veterans.