NEW YORK — 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, Mrs. Manning attended nursing school during the Depression and became a nurse at a hospital in Atlanta.
She enlisted in the US 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.’’
Mrs. 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 US 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 Mrs. 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 M. 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 Mrs. Manning.
Norman is preparing a revised paperback edition that will include a final chapter on Mrs. Manning titled ‘‘Last Woman Standing.’’
Mrs. Manning, Lieutenant 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.’’
Mildred Jeannette Dalton was born near Winder, Ga. 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). She treated servicemen at field hospitals in jungle terrain in the retreat to the Bataan Peninsula, then joined the last-ditch stand on Corregidor, treating the wounded there in tunnels bombed incessantly by the Japanese, until the American capitulation.
The captive nurses — 66 from the Army at Santo Tomas and 11 from the Navy, who had surrendered in Manila and were held at another internment camp — were liberated in the winter of 1945. The Army nurses received Bronze Stars in a ceremony on Leyte island in the Philippines, then were flown to California and received a message of gratitude from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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, N.J., to be near her son. In addition to him, she leaves a daughter, as well as five grandchildren and a great-grandson. Her husband died in 1994.
Mrs. Manning told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2001 that she continued to experience trauma from her war experiences. She feared dark places long after those grim days and nights in the tunnels of Corregidor, she said, and she built extra shelves in her home to store staples out of fear that she would run out of food.
‘‘But I came out so much better than many of my friends,’’ she said. ‘‘I have never been bitter, and I have always known that if I could survive that, I could survive anything.’’