David C. Henley: Four U.S. military heroes have left us
November 23, 2013
Word has just reached me of the recent deaths of four American military heroes, and each deserves special recognition.
Three of them, ages 88, 89 and 96, were Medal of Honor awardees. The fourth was an Army nurse who died at age 98.
She was Mildred Dalton Manning, a first lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. She was one of 66 Army and 11 Navy nurses who were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese when they overran Bataan and Corregidor, the last U.S. bastions in the Philippines, in 1942.
Manning and the other nurses became known collectively as the “Angels of Mercy” when they treated wounded, disease-ridden and dying soldiers and Philippine civilians before and after their capture by the Japanese, who beat, tortured and starved many of them in prison camps. Upon their release, the nurses were awarded high-ranking medals from their respective services.
When she died at her home in New Jersey, Manning was the last survivor of the 77 nurses. In interviews several years before her death, she recalled how the nurses lived on one or two bowls of rice a day during captivity and said she had lost all her teeth in the camps because of a lack of nutrition. At war’s end, she practiced nursing in Florida, married a newspaper editor and had two children.
The three Medal of Honor awardees also had dramatic tales to tell following their wartime service. They were Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day, 88; Army Sgt. John Hawk, 89; and Army Master Sgt. Nicholas Oresko, 96.
Day, who served during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, received the Medal of Honor for escaping his captors for 10 days after the aircraft he was piloting was shot down over Vietnam, leaving him with a broken knee and arm and temporary blindness. In Vietnam, he spent 5 1/2 years as a POW and was the cellmate of Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot who also had been shot down and captured.
The two men were initially imprisoned at a camp known as the “Plantation” and later transferred to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” where they were hung by their arms for days, starved and beaten. When Day was freed in 1973, he was skeletal, and his arms and hands never functioned properly again. Following his release, he practiced law in Florida and became an advocate for veterans’ rights and benefits.
Hawk received the Medal of Honor for heroism under fire during the allies’ Normandy campaign, which led to France’s liberation from the Germans during the last year of World War II.
Manning a light machine gun near the French town of Chambois in late August 1944, Hawk came under heavy German fire that destroyed his weapon and struck him in the thigh. But he found a bazooka in a ditch, climbed a hill and intentionally exposed himself to further enemy fire in successful efforts to shield his comrades.
Because of his heroism, his men were spared and he led them onward in destroying several German tanks and effecting the surrender of at least a dozen enemy soldiers.
At war’s end, Hawk became a teacher and principal in Washington state.
Oresko, who died last month, received the Medal of Honor from President Truman in 1945 for his heroism during the Battle of the Bulge in Germany.
Oresko was serving as a platoon leader when German machine-gun fire pinned down his unit, and he moved out alone in the morning darkness, braving enemy fire until he was close enough to throw a grenade into an enemy bunker.
He then rushed the bunker, finishing off with his rifle German soldiers who had survived. He ran to a second bunker and took it as well, despite hip and leg wounds and losing a lot of blood.
Following war’s end, Oresko returned to New Jersey and became a supervising claims adjuster with the Veterans Administration. A widower, he had no immediate survivors.
All four of these veterans were military heroes, and every one of us should honor and remember them with respect and awe.
David C. Henley is the publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News, a sister newspaper to the Nevada Appeal.