Heroic Nurse – the Last Surviving 'Angel of Bataan and Corregidor' – Passes Away

Mar 18, 2013, 9:00 AM

Mildred Dalton Manning, the last surviving member of a group of U.S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner in the Philippines at the start of World War II, passed away last week at the age of 98. For many, she had come to symbolize the dedication, strength, and heroism of nurses.

Born in 1914 on the eve of World War I, Manning volunteered for the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1939, as the world again teetered on the edge of global conflict. Originally stationed in Atlanta, she requested a posting on the Philippines, saying she wanted to "see the world." Decades later she would recall, "What I saw was a prison camp."

file "Angels of Bataan and Corregidor": Army nurses, wearing new uniforms, crowd into a truck following their February 1945 liberation from the Santo Tomas Internment Compound in Manila.

Manning arrived in Manila in October of 1941, six weeks before a series of Japanese attacks on U.S. outposts throughout the Pacific, including Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island and elsewhere. The land battle for the Philippines raged for months, with U.S. forces gradually retreating to the tiny island of Corregidor at the southern tip of Bataan.

During the battle, Manning and her fellow Army and Navy nurses—the first unit of American women to be sent into service so close to the front lines of battle—treated the wounded day and night at a makeshift outdoor clinic in the jungles of Bataan. Over the course of four months, they cared for 6,000 patients, bandaging wounds with bombs falling around them. As the U.S. position deteriorated, they moved to Corregidor, where they would continue their work in a tunnel. There they earned their nickname, "the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor."

In May, five months after the battle began, remaining U.S. forces surrendered to the Japanese. The men on Corregidor were sent on the fabled Bataan Death March on their way to the harshest of treatment in prisoner of war camps.

Manning and her colleagues had a different ordeal ahead of them. Also taken prisoner, they were returned to Manila and held at a prison camp on the campus of Santo Tomas University, along with 4,000 civilians, mostly Americans. Over the course of the next three years, short on medicine, food, clean water, and supplies of all kinds, the nurses continued their work, treating fellow prisoners even as their own health deteriorated. While in captivity, Manning suffered from beri-beri, dengue fever, and malnutrition.

Still, she and her fellow nurses carried on. “We were scared and tired, but we kept working,” Manning told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2001. “We were under terrific strain, but we just did our job even when we were weak from not eating.”

The ordeal continued until February 3, 1945, when a U.S. tank rolled through the gates of Santo Tomas. Remarkably, not one of the 77 Army or Navy nurses sent to the camp perished.

After her liberation, Manning was sent on a tour to promote war bonds, during which she met her future husband, an editor at the Atlanta Constitution. She subsequently returned to work as a nurse in Jacksonville, Florida, and is survived by a daughter, a son, five grandchildren, and a legacy of commitment and heroism.

Military nurses' contributions and sacrifices are often underreported and unappreciated, but Manning's tale is captured movingly in obituaries in The New York Times and Washington Post.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.