SALEM — For Veterans Day, city officials honored those who served in World War II but are still not considered veterans 80 years later, despite being directly responsible for so many other veterans coming home safely.
Barbara Poremba calls them “she-roes.” They’re the wartime nurses of the Greatest Generation, one of whom was given a permanent monument at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Szetela Lane at a ceremony Thursday morning in Salem.
“In total, 124,000 young women answered our country’s call for duty (during World War II) and enlisted in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps,” said Poremba, a Salem resident and member of the Friends of U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps who led the charge for the monument. “They served in the military, the VA and in private and public hospitals. They saved our health care system from complete collapse in World War II. Yet, despite their service in World War II, during our nation’s time in need, the Cadet Nurses are the only uniformed corps that hasn’t been formally recognized as veterans.”
The monument honors Catherine Larkin, a Boston Street resident who was born in 1916 and graduated Salem Hospital Nursing School in 1938. She enlisted in 1941 and served as a nurse at Harding Field in Louisiana. She climbed the ranks and became a commissioned officer in the Persian and Indian theaters of the war in December 1944.
Larkin was killed when a C-47 transport carrying her and other nurses with the 11th Combat Cargo Squadron crashed near Ledo, India, on March 4, 1945, according to military service website Honor States. All aboard were killed.
“As we know, her name was Catherine Larkin,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll, “and she was the first woman veteran from Salem to die on duty in wartime service.”
The monument rests on the corner of Bentley Academy Innovation School. It includes a photo of Larkin in uniform with nurse symbols flanking either side of the portrait. The first line of her bio reads: “Born and raised in Salem.”
The event was attended by Mary Schofield Maione, a 97-year-old Hamilton resident who was kept warm in the ceremony’s front row by her nurse’s cape, which these days hugs her like a pullover coat.
“I didn’t recognize there wasn’t one to begin with,” Maione said, of a monument honoring Larkin. “I was surprised and very glad about it, because there were so many extensive situations we got into, had to work with people. To recognize the fact that we’re that important... to give them respect, it’s a good thing.”
Maione herself was publicly recognized by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, former state Rep. Brad Hill and local officials at her home in 2018 for her service in the Nurse Corps.
While the new monument preserves a wartime nurse’s legacy in her hometown, there’s a need for more, said Poremba, who herself was wearing a Salem Hospital nurse’s cape to honor Larkin, as the monument was unveiled.
At that point, Poremba called attention to two bills moving through Congress to give wartime nurses honorary veteran status and establish a grave marker to recognize them for their service — S1200, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and HR2568, cosponsored by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton. Though she applauded the efforts, Poremba argued they still aren’t enough of a monument to the heroics nurses performed in World War II.
“It doesn’t provide burial rights at Arlington Cemetery or any additional VA benefits,” she said. “It simply, but importantly, pays our nation’s respects to the incredible service these women of the Greatest Generation provided in wartime nearly 80 years ago.”
In 2019, Massachusetts became the first state to pass legislation designating July 1 as U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Day.
Still, Thursday was about honoring Larkin at home, and the monument does just that, according to Poremba.
“Today, it’s fitting we have this prominent memorial to honor World War II nurse Catherine Larkin, here on the grounds of a Salem elementary school,” Poremba said. “Because little girls need she-roes too.”