Army Veteran Earlyn Marie Black Harding was a member of the famed “Band of Angels”—U.S. Army and Navy nurses who served on Bataan and Corregidor during Japan’s 1941-42 invasion of the Philippines. She was among the 12,000 Americans who became POWs with the fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942. The 77 military nurses captured were the first large group of female military personnel held by an enemy. May 6, coincidently, is National Nurses Day.
Black was a registered nurse (RN) trained at Baylor University Hospital’s nursing program (today’s Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas). She was inducted into the Army Nurse Corps, with the “relative” rank of 2nd Lieutenant on September 12, 1940.
In April 1941, she volunteered to go to the Philippines and arrived on June 24. She was assigned to the medical facilities on the fortress island of Corregidor in Manila Bay. The Officer of the Day greeting her was Lt. Harry J. Harding. After the war, she would marry and care for Lt. Col. Harding, who was 100-percent disabled from 39 months as a POW.
When war came to the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941, all medical personnel on the island were moved to Malinta Hospital in the Malinta Tunnel. The conditions in the underground, 1,000-bed hospital were appalling. The tunnel was poorly ventilated, damp, and infested with flies, ants and rodents. The stench of death and the constant bombardment of the island demanded uncommon fortitude and dedication from everyone both in and out of Malinta.
On May 6, 1942, Maj. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright surrendered Corregidor and its associated islands. For the next two months, Japanese soldiers allowed the medical department to continue to care for most of the sick and wounded. On July 2, 1942, the nurses were separated from their Corregidor patients and moved to the civilian internment camp of Santo Tomas in Manila. There they helped care for the 4,000 internees and 800 children on the 65-acre campus of the University of Santo Tomas.
The nurses were not physically abused, but the same cannot be said for their mental wellbeing. Every day was filled with uncertainty and capricious acts, such as the withholding of food, medical supplies, Red Cross boxes and mail. Internees died daily of starvation.
The internment camp was liberated Feb. 3, 1945, and the nurses returned to the U.S. on Feb. 22. After only a week of evaluation at Letterman General Hospital, the nurses were given two months of R&R at a location of their choice and then assigned to a hospital of their choice.
In June 1946, now-1st Lt. Black resigned her commission but remained in the Army Standby Reserve, retiring in 1950 as a captain. She married Lt. Col. Harding on June 30, 1946. They had two children and lived in Texas and New Mexico. She died at 88 on Aug. 16, 2007, and is buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
It was not until May 6, 2000, that a stone marker on Corregidor was erected to honor the Army and Navy nurses in the 1941-42 Defense of the Philippines. The marker’s inscription reads: In honor of the valiant American military women who gave so much of themselves in the early days of World War II, they provided care and comfort to the gallant defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, they lived on a starvation diet, shared the bombing, strafing, sniping, sickness and disease while working endless hours of heartbreaking duty, these nurses always had a smile, a tender touch and a kind word for their patients. They truly earned the name the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.