Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth

    Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth was born in Columbus, Ohio, in September 1918.  He was one of two sons of David W. and Virgie Ainsworth.  He lived at 2609 Elliott Avenue in Columbus.  He graduated from West High School in Columbus in 1937.  After high school, he worked as a storage clerk at a mine supply company.  Robert was inducted into the U. S. Army at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, on March 20, 1941.       
    At Fort Knox, Kentucky, Robert was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  The companies job was to repair and supply the tanks of the four letter companies of the battalion.     In the fall of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  It was after the maneuvers that the tankers learned that they were being sent overseas.   The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day.  
    About 8:00 in the morning on Thursday, November 20th the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  The tankers rode buses to the train station where they got out and took a train to Ft. Stostenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.

    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    The night of December 7th, the officers of the tank group were called to the radio room and listened to the reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  That morning, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  All morning long, the tankers watched as the sky was filled with American planes.  At twelve noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. 
    As the tankers sat at their tanks eating lunch, a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the tankers thought they were American. As they watched, they saw what looked like "rain drops" fell from the planes.  It was when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.

  He and the other members of the battalion arrived in the Philippines seventeen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    Being a member of HQ Company, Robert's duties required that he work to get the letter companies of the battalion the supplies they needed to fight the Japanese.  He would do this until the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.

    On April 9, 1942, Robert became a Prisoner of War.  He took part in the Death March from Mariveles to San Fernando.  At San Fernando, he and the other prisoners were crammed into steel boxcars and transported to Capas.  From there, they walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell. 

    It is not known if Robert went out on any work details, but he was held at Cabanatuan.  It is known that in October, 1942, Robert and other prisoners were taken by ship to Davao, Mindanao.  There, they were used as labor on a farm and later building runways for an airfield.  It is not known how long he remained on this detail, but it is known he was also held at Clark Airfield where he also built runways.  He was returned to Cabanatuan and then sent out again to Camp Murphy and built runways at Nielson Airfield.  He was returned to Cabanatuan and sent to the Pasay school. The POW on this detail built runways at Nichols Field.

    When it became apparent to the Japanese that it was just a matter of time before American forces would be invading the Philippine Islands, the Japanese began transferring the POWs to other parts of the Japanese Empire.   On September 17, 1944, Robert's name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Bilibid Prison near Manila.

    Robert was held at Bilibid until October 10th.  With other prisoners, he was marched to the Port Area of Manila.  His group was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since all the POWs had not arrived at the pier and the ship was ready to sail, the POWs from another group were boarded in their place so the ship could leave.

    Robert's detachment of POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11th.  The ship sailed but instead of heading to Japan, it headed south to Palawan Island.  In a cove off the island, the ship hid from American planes.  During this time, the ship was attacked by American planes.

    The POWs in the hold discovered that the Japanese had removed the lights from the hold, but that they had not turned off the power.  Some of the prisoners hot-wired the ventilation system into the lighting system.  For several days the POWs had fresh air.  When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they cut off the power.

A few days later, the Japanese realized that unless they did something many of the POWs would die.  To solve the problem, the Japanese transferred POWs into the ship's number two hold.  During the transfer one POW attempted to escape and was shot.

    On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila.  The next day, October 21, 1944, the Arisan Maru sailed for Takao, Formosa, as part of a twelve ship convoy.  The ships were in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. 

    The evening of Tuesday, October 24th,  twenty POWs were on deck preparing dinner.  Suddenly, the Japanese on deck ran toward the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of it.  Moments later the Japanese ran to the stern of the ship as another torpedo missed the ship.

    The ship shook and came to a dead stop in the water.  It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships.  A Japanese guard aimed his machine gun at the POWs and  fired at them.  The POWs dove into the ship's holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on but did not tie them down.  A short time later, the Japanese abandoned ship.  Before they left, they cut the  rope ladders hanging down into the holds.

    Since the hatch covers had not been tied down, some of the POWs in the second hold made their way back on deck.  These men reattached and dropped rope ladders to the men in the holds.  For the next two hours, the ship remained afloat.   The POWs who could not swim stuffed themselves with food from the ship's kitchen.  Others attempted to find anything that would float.  35 POWs swam to another Japanese ship, but they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs.

    As the ship sank lower in the water, many POWs tried to escape.  At some point, the ship split in two.  Five of the POWs found a lifeboat that had been abandoned by the Japanese.  Since it had no oars, they could not maneuver it.

    A Japanese destroyer came near to the boat and looked like it was about to open fire on it.  The POWs played dead and at the last second it turned away.   The men in the boats listened to the cries for help.  As time went on, there were fewer cries.  Then there was silence.

    Of the 1803 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived the its sinking. Eight of these men survived the war.  Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth was not one of them.

    Since he was lost at sea, Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.


Return To HQ Company