Every day we lose another member of the Greatest Generation — those who fought in ways large and small to defend freedom in the world during World War II. There are many stories and heroes that came from the war, and too many of them have been forgotten, especially those involving women. One of those, Mildred (Dalton) Manning, died at the age of 98 in March. She was the last surviving member of a brave group of women, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they turned their attention to the Philippines. The United States had large bases there. U.S. Army and Navy nurses were stationed at Stanberg General Hospital in Manila, as well as other hospitals nearby. A few weeks later, at the start of the Battle of the Phillippines, 88 nurses escaped from Manila to Bataan and Corregidor. Eleven Navy nurses were captured and sent to a Japanese internment camp at Santo Tomas.
Many of the nurses who escaped were assigned to hospitals in Bataan. For four months, they tended patients in open-air wards in the middle of the oppressive jungle. Over the course of the next four months, they administered to 6,000 patients, dealing not only with wounds and injuries but malaria, dysentery and more.
In April 1942, as Bataan was about to fall, those nurses were ordered to the island fortress at Corregidor. There, hospital wards were located in tunnels under the fortress. On April 29, a small group of army nurses were evacuated. The last remaining navy nurse and some more army nurses were evacuated by submarine four days later.
On May 6, Corregidor fell to the Japanese, and the 66 remaining nurses were captured. On July 2, they were sent to Santo Tomas. The internment camp was located on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas. U.S. Army Captain Maude C. Davison, age 57, took charge of the nurses. She insisted that they wear their uniforms and maintained regular duty schedules the entire time they were prisoners.
In May 1943, the navy nurses were transferred to the Los Baños camp, where they became known as “the sacred eleven.” The nurses remained prisoners for two and a half years. Their rations at the camp dwindled over time. By the end of 1944 they were on a diet of 960 calories a day. Then the civilian Japanese government turned control of the camp over to the Imperial Japanese Army. The army reduced it even further to 700 calories per day.
On February 3, 1945, more than four years after the nurses evacuated Manila, Santo Tomas was finally liberated by General Douglas MacArthur’s forces. Three weeks later, Los Baños was also liberated. The women, on average, had lost 30% of their body weight during their imprisonment. But through it all, the 77 brave women persevered and all of them survived.
Some of the Angels of Bataan being evacuated after the liberation of the internment camp at Santo Tomas.
During the course of the war, their story had been used to promote recruitment and war bonds sales. By the end of the war, almost 60,000 women volunteered as nurses, more than half of whom also volunteered and served in active combat zones. Sixteen were killed in service. One of the escapees wrote a book, and three movies were made about their story: Cry ‘Havoc’ (MGM, 1943), So Proudly We Hail! (Paramount, 1943), and They were Expendable (MGM, 1945).
These women were the first large group of American women in active combat. They remain the largest group of American women ever taken captive and imprisoned in wartime. There is a shrine to those who served at Bataan and Corregidor at Mount Samai, and a bronze plaque was dedicated there in 1980:
TO THE ANGELS—In honor of the valiant American military women who gave so much of themselves in the early days of World War II. They provided care and comfort to the gallant defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. They lived on a starvation diet, shared the bombing, strafing, sniping, sickness and disease while working endless hours of heartbreaking duty. These nurses always had a smile, a tender touch and a kind word for their patients. They truly earned the name—THE ANGELS OF BATAAN AND CORREGIDOR.
Mildren Manning was the of these brave, selfless women to survive. After her release, she was promoted to lieutenant. She toured the country promoting the sale of war bonds. It was on this tour that she met the man who would become her husband. In a notice of her death that appeared in the March 25 issue of Time magazine, she is quoted as having once said “I have never been bitter. If I could survive that, I could survive anything.”