Mildred Dalton Manning, an Army nurse who was held captive for almost three years in the Philippines and who was the last known female military prisoner of war from World War II, died March 8 at a hospital in Hopewell, N.J. She was 98.
She was being treated for pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, her son, James Manning, said.
Mrs. Manning, then known as Millie Dalton, joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1939 in her native Georgia. She asked for a transfer to the Philippines because she wanted to see more of the world.
She arrived in Manila late in October 1941. About six weeks later, Japanese forces attacked U.S. installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and also bombed a U.S. air base near Manila.
The Battle of the Philippines raged on for months, particularly on the Philippine peninsula of Bataan and the island of Corregidor. Mrs. Manning was one of about 100 military nurses who cared for wounded soldiers around the clock.
She worked for two months at a makeshift outdoor clinic on Bataan and at an underground hospital set up in a tunnel on Corregidor. She and the other nurses became collectively known as the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.
When U.S. forces were overrun in May 1942, Mrs. Manning was one of 77 military nurses — 66 from the Army, 11 from the Navy — taken prisoner. (There were several other civilian nurses and medical workers held captive, as well.)
Mrs. Manning and her Army nurse colleagues were among almost 4,000 people detained at a prison camp built on the grounds of Manila’s Santo Tomas University and run by Japanese civilians.
In 1943, two Hollywood movies were made about the heroic nurses of the Philippines, “Cry ‘Havoc’ ” and “So Proudly We Hail,” but the real-life Angels of Bataan and Corregidor were almost forgotten after they were interned.
The letters they wrote to their families in America never arrived and were found after the war in a Manila warehouse.
Mrs. Manning later said that the prison camp had no showers, beds or kitchens. A single toilet was used by hundreds of people. Yet somehow she and the nurses persevered. They maintained strict military order among themselves, always wearing their uniforms and caring for the sick.
Early in 1944, the Japanese military took control of the camp, and conditions began to deteriorate. Dozens of detainees died of starvation. Some were hauled away by guards and never seen again.
The nurses suffered many of the same ills that afflicted the other prisoners of war. Mrs. Manning said their daily allotment of food consisted of two watery bowls of rice. She endured beriberi, dengue fever and malnutrition and, in the years after her imprisonment, would lose all her teeth.
Though ailing and undernourished, the nurses continued to care for the sick and dying in the prison camp.
“We were scared and tired, but we kept working,” Mrs. 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.”
Finally, on Feb. 3, 1945, a U.S. tank battalion broke through the gates of Santo Tomas, ending the captivity of Mrs. Manning and so many others. The prisoners spontaneously began singing “God Bless America.”
All 77 of the nurses from Santo Tomas survived their ordeal.
Mildred Jeannette Dalton was born July 11, 1914, on a farm in Barrow County, Ga. She graduated from nursing school in 1937 at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, where she worked before joining the Army.
When she returned from the Philippines, Mrs. Manning and the other nurses were awarded the Bronze Star Medal and a Presidential Unit Citation.
While speaking at an armaments plant in Georgia, she met a journalist, Arthur Brewster “Bruce” Manning. They were married in 1945 and later lived for almost 40 years in Jacksonville, Fla.
Her husband, who was managing editor of the Florida Times-Union newspaper, died in 1994. A son, William Manning, died in 2006.
Survivors include two children, James Manning of Trenton, N.J., and March Price of Atlanta; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Mrs. Manning briefly worked at a nursing school in Jacksonville in the 1960s, but she seldom discussed her wartime experiences.
“It was clearly very painful,” her son said.
She disliked dark, confined spaces and often cooked food in large quantities. She believed the arthritis in her hands came from using scissors to cut off the bloody uniforms of hundreds of wounded soldiers.
In a 2004 interview with the Trenton Times, Mrs. Manning reflected on her sense of duty while living under horrific conditions.
“I had a job to do,” she said. “I was a nurse.”