WWII POW dies at 88 By Alison Beshur The Daily Times Published August 24, 2007
From her nice-mannered, reserved nature, it might be hard to guess Earlyn “Blackie” Harding was one of the last surviving woman prisoners of war in Japan during World War II.
Harding died last week. She was 88. Her place in history remains embedded in the memories of other area veterans and inscribed in several books. The cover of one of the books, “We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese,” includes a photo of Harding and other nurses who were released after nearly three years in a Japanese prison camp.
There were only 66 U.S. Army nurses serving in the Philippines. Many of them, including Harding, were part of a small group of 88 women POWs from World War II, according to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.
Dr. Mary E. Walker, a Civil War Army contract surgeon, is the only other woman in U.S. history to precede those 88 World War II women POWs.
Harding’s son, Jac, said his mother grew up on a Texas farm in Limestone County during the Depression. The only child studied nursing at Baylor University and became a registered nurse in 1938. She worked as a civilian nurse for a few years before going to the Philippines in June 1941. Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, life on the island included sport activities and nightly dances, Jac Harding said.
Earlyn Harding didn’t talk much about her war experience until about 10 years ago, when she shared parts of a diary and notes she had written afterward.
She never seemed to harbor mental anguish as a result of her experience. The long-time smoker suffered some physical problems because of the damp, diseased conditions of the prison camps, Jac Harding said. After World War II, Harding remained a nurse reservist until 1950. Then, she stayed at home and reared Jac and his sister, Sandra, and developed an interest in weaving and gardening.
She continued those hobbies long after moving to Kerrville in 1986. She also joined the local veterans group for former POWs and was highly regarded among its members. Nina Weinberg admired Harding for enduring the harsh conditions of a Japanese prisoner of war camp. “It was a horrible experience, but she survived,” Weinberg said of her long-time friend. “She was a really nice person and everybody liked her.”
Jim Ridout, another member of the group, echoed Weinberg’s remarks about Harding, who survived some of the worst- known conditions faced by war-time prisoners.
“I would much rather be in a prison of Germans than Japanese,” said Ridout, who spent more than a month in a German prison camp. “She’s just one of a breed that’s long gone.”
Five nurses remain. What question will you have when none remain to answer? It is time to ask those questions you need answered that only the remaining nurses know the answer to.
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