After growing up poor on a farm in Georgia, Manning sought to beat the Depression by going to nursing school, and enlisting in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1939. “I joined the Army to see the world,” she said later. “And what I saw was a prison camp.” Literally: as Japanese forces overran the Philippines during World War II, Manning and her colleagues treated wounded soldiers under heavy fire. The nurses were first evacuated to Manila, then Bataan, and then finally the island fortress of Corregidor. Few escaped. In all, 77 Army and Navy nurses were among those captured when Corregidor fell in May 1942; nearly 4,000 men, women and children were held as POWs at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, which the Japanese converted into an internment camp. The prisoners there were nearly starved by their captors, but the nurses did their best to tend to other prisoners’ wounds and illnesses.
Eleven Navy nurses were transferred to a new camp at Los Banos, where they were known as “The Sacred Eleven”. The Army nurses, known as “The Angels of Bataan and Corregidor”, were finally liberated by the 1st Cavalry on February 3, 1945, and taken to Leyte island, where they were all awarded the Bronze Star. Their story was told in the 1999 book We Band of Angels. There were also films dramatizing the nurses’ work while captive, including Cry Havoc (1943), So Proudly We Hail! (1943) and They Were Expendable (1945). After the war, Manning continued to practice as a nurse. “I came out so much better than many of my friends,” she said years later. “I have never been bitter, and I have always known that if I could survive that, I could survive anything.” Manning, the last of the living “Angels”, died in New Jersey on March 8. She was 98.
Author’s note: Yes, the films started before they were liberated. They were partly based on extensive newspaper coverage of their capture, and partly on a book written by one of the nurses who escaped before the others were captured.