Word has just reached me of the recent deaths of four American military heroes, and each deserves a special recognition in my column today.
Three of them, whose ages were 88, 89 and 96, were Medal of Honor awardees.
The fourth was a female Army nurse and the oldest of the four when she died at age 98.
She was Mildred Dalton Manning, a first lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, and 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 the notorious Japanese prison camps. Upon their release from captivity, the nurses were recognized in speeches by President Harry S. Truman and 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 newspaper interviews several years before her death, she recalled how she and her fellow nurses lived on one or two bowls of rice a day during captivity and said that she had lost all of 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 gave birth to 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 a skeletal figure 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.
When Day died, McCain issued a statement saying, “Day was a great patriot and I owe my life to this man. He was the bravest man I ever knew, and his fierce resistance and resolute leadership set an example for us in prison on how to return home with honor.”
Hawk received the Medal of Honor for his heroism under fire during the allies’ Normandy campaign that 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, and, despite his wound, climbed a hill and purposely 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 school 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 machinegun 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 then ran to a second bunker and took it as well, despite being wounded in the hip and leg and suffering a large loss of blood. Oresko refused to be evacuated until his men were safe and he was assured the mission was successful.
Following war’s end, Oresko returned to his home state of New Jersey and became a supervising claims adjustor 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 publisher emeritus.