Obit of the Day: The Last “Angel” of Bataan and Corregidor
On December 8, 1941 (December 7 in Honolulu, Hawaii), 88 Army and 11 Navy nurses serving in the Philippines found themselves in the midst of the Japanese invasion of the Pacific. They flew into action assisting and comforting the wounded.
After the surprise attack subsided and the U.S. and Filipino military fought the Japanese invaders they set up two main hospitals. The first was located in Bataan and was nothing more than a group of grass tents and sheds. The second was an open air hospital further inland that became a hotbed for malaria and dysentery.
Mildred Dalton had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1939 having graduated from nursing school in Georgia a few years earlier. She was one of the 99 nurses stationed in the Philippines on that fateful day. What she and her peers experienced over the next four years would forever change them.
On April 8, 1942 the Army ordered the evacuation of Bataan including the nurses. They left 8,800 wounded in the hospital. The nurses would forever regret that decision especially since many of those men were killed immediately or during the infamous Bataan Death March.
Sent to Corregidor, the military set up the next hospital in the Malinta Tunnel. Poorly lit and poorly ventilated, the hospital would care for over 12,000 Army and Navy wounded.
As the Japanese army continued their drive through the Philippines thirty-four nurses were evacuated to Australia. Fifty-six were left in Corregidor and ten more were stranded on a nearby island after their transport plane crashed. On May 6, 1942 the military command at Corregidor surrendered and all the nurses became prisoners of war. (The ten stranded nurses were later captured by the Japanese and became POWs as well.)
For the next three years these women would care for the wounded in various internment camps set up by the Japanese. Early on the women were treated well provided with decent food, golf lessons, and all the medical supplies they needed. As the war progressed, however, conditions deteriorated as the tide turned against the Japanese.
In the winter of 1945 the nurses and their patients were all suffering from some level of malnutrition. Several were literally starving and suffering from the painful disease beriberi, caused by a severe vitamin B deficiency. The women were living on 700 calories a day. They were finally saved in February 1945 when the 1st Calvary Division and 44th Tank Battalion liberated the camps.
The women became national heroes. Dubbed “angels” by the soldiers and sailors under their care, the nurses were awarded bronze stars, received a special message of thanks from Franklin Roosevelt, and were recruited for war bond drives.
Mildred Dalton met her future husband, Arthur Manning, a newspaper editor, on one of the bond drives. They would later move to Jacksonville, Florida where she continued to work as a nurse.
Mrs. Manning could never forget her experience and suffered from lifelong symptoms of PTSD. After her husband died she moved to Trenton, New Jersey to be closer to one of her sons. She was easily spotted driving around town in her red Toyota Corrolla with her license plates which read EX POW RN. (Her children had to convince Mrs. Manning that it was OK to purchase a Japanese car.)
Mildred Dalton Manning passed away on March 8, 2013 at the age of 98. She was the last of the “Angels” according to Elizabeth Norman author of We Band of Angels.
Sources: NY Times, Soldiers magazine, and Allnurses.com
(Image of several of the “Angels of Bataan” as they are boarding a plane to leave the Philippines February 20, 1945. Courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History via Soldiers magazine. I could not determine whether Mrs. Manning was in the photo.)