Mildred Dalton Manning grew up poor on a Georgia farm. Her mother made all the family clothes on an old sewing machine. Hoping to escape a life of poverty, she attended nursing school during the Depression and became a nurse at a hospital in Atlanta.
She enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in 1939. “I joined the Army to see the world," she told The Courier News of Bridgewater, N.J., some 60 years later. “And what I saw was a prison camp."
Manning was among the Army and Navy nurses of World War II known collectively as the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor. When the Japanese were overrunning the Philippines in early 1942, the nurses treated wounded, dying and disease-ridden soldiers under heavy enemy fire, in one of the darkest chapters of U.S. military history.
A total of 66 Army nurses were taken into captivity by the Japanese after the Americans’ final outpost, on the island of Corregidor, fell in May 1942. They spent most of the war under guard at Japan’s Santo Tomas internment camp for foreign nationals in Manila, where they faced near-starvation and were ravaged by disease and malnutrition while treating nearly 4,000 men, women and children.
When Manning died Friday in Hopewell, N.J., at 98, she was the last survivor of the Army and Navy nurses who had been captured by the Japanese in the Philippines, said Elizabeth Norman, who told their stories in “We Band of Angels." Norman’s book was first published in 1999 as a Random House hardcover, but she said she had continued to keep track over the years.
“I’m certain she was the last one," Norman said of Manning.
Manning — Lt. Mildred Dalton during the war — and her fellow nurses subsisted on one or two bowls of rice a day in the last stages of their imprisonment. She lost all her teeth to lack of nutrition.
“I have been asked many times if we were mistreated or tortured," she wrote in a remembrance for her files, made available on Saturday by her son, James, who announced her death. “Physically, no. A few people might get their face slapped if they failed to bow to a Japanese guard. Humiliated, yes. We would be awakened at 2 in the morning for head count or searched for contraband."
“From time to time they would round up a number of men and take them out of camp and they were never heard from again," she continued. “Our internment was nothing compared to the Bataan Death March and imprisonment our soldiers went through. They were tortured and starved."
Mildred Jeannette Dalton was born on July 11, 1914, near Winder, Ga. She graduated from the Grady Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Atlanta, then was head nurse at Grady before entering military service.
She was stationed at Clark Field, north of Manila, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and bombed the Philippines (where it was Dec. 8, across the international date line).
After her liberation, Dalton was sent by the Army to promote war bond sales in her final months of military service. She met Arthur Brewster Manning, an editor at The Atlanta Constitution, at a rally and married him on her 31st birthday.
She later worked as a nurse in Jacksonville, Fla., while raising a family. In her later years she moved to Trenton to be near her son. In addition to him, she is survived by a daughter, March Price, as well as five grandchildren and a great-grandson. Her husband died in 1994.