94-year-old Patient is both WWII Veteran and Former Hospital Nurse
TOMS RIVER, NJ – Irene Wagner, a 94-year-old patient in Community Medical Center’s
Transitional Care Unit, was recently honored as a World War II veteran
through the hospital’s expanding Veteran Recognition Program. The
Program also brought to light a personal connection to the hospital: Wagner
was one of the first nurses to work at Community Medical Center decades before.
The Manchester resident had served as a member of the Navy Nurse Corps,
and treated injured servicemen at the Marines boot camp on Parris Island
in South Carolina during WWII. After the war she settled with her husband
in Toms River, and worked as a medical/surgical nurse at Community Medical
Center (then called Community Memorial Hospital) from 1961 to 1970.
“It was an emotional experience, seeing Irene honored as a woman,
a nurse and as a veteran,” said Gladys Zakar, CAVS, CVM, Manager,
Volunteer Department & Pastoral Care Services. Zakar coordinates the
Veteran Recognition Program, which is supported by volunteers, many of
Wagner was presented with a red, white and blue hand-knitted blanket and
a certificate, as well as a star from a retired U.S. flag with a message
to the veteran recipient to tell her that she was not forgotten.
Wagner said she was surprised when Zakar and VNA Hospice volunteer Frank
Alleva came to her bedside for the dedication. She told them about her
years of service and how she had only been in nursing school for six months
when WWII broke out. She joined the Nurse Navy Corps upon her graduation.
“When you enlisted, you were made supervisor of a unit,” Wagner
says. “I was in orthopedics, so I helped amputees and soldiers who
“It’s important to remember veterans in this way,” said
Alleva, the volunteer who presented Irene with her gifts – especially
in Ocean County, which is home to the state’s largest population
of veterans and seniors overall. According to the US Census Bureau, the
town of Toms River has the largest population of veterans in the state.
Nearly half a million veterans reside in New Jersey.
The Veteran Recognition Program at Community Medical Center began as a
hospice-only program in April 2016 and has grown to encompass inpatients
throughout the hospital.
“It’s a recognition of what they’ve done in their life,
a reaffirmation for them,” Alleva said. An Air Force veteran himself,
Alleva said he enjoys sitting with veterans, talking and listening to
them. “When they get to tell their story to someone new, and people
thank them for their service, it instills a little more pride in them
than before. And they do have some amazing stories. You feel like you’re
Irene Wagner, a 94-year-old WWII Navy Nurse Corps Veteran and one of the
first nurses to work at Community Medical Center, was honored for her
service as part of the hospital’s Veteran Recognition Program.