Pvt. John Barnett Babb

    Pvt. John B. Babb was born on April 6, 1918, in Hopkins County, Kentucky.  He was the son of Archie Babb & Minnie Lypcott-Babb and grew up in Madisonville, Kentucky.  He was in the Civilian Conservation Corps planting trees in the Morganfield, Kentucky, area.  In 1937, he married Dorothy Pleasant.  The couple had a son, Charles.  His wife passed away in 1940.

    On January 22, 1941, John was inducted into the U.S. Army in Louisville, Kentucky.  He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  In the late summer of 1941, he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, on the side of a hill, his battalion was informed that they were being sent overseas.

    Over four different train routes, the battalion headed west to San Francisco.  Once there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island.  While on the island, they soldiers were given physicals and inoculated. 
    The battalion sailed, U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, 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.

    After arriving in the Philippine Islands on Thanksgiving Day, 1941, he traveled by train to Fort Stotsenburg.  For a little over two weeks, John and the other members of his company lived in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  They spent most of their time preparing their tanks for maneuvers that had been scheduled.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of D Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  They were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.

     All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At 12:30, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  It was about 12:45 when the tankers spotted planes approaching the airfield from the north.  At first the soldiers believed they were American.  It was after they watched metal streamers falling from the planes and saw the explosions from the bombs that they knew the planes were Japanese.

    John and his company remained at Clark Field for several days. They left the field after receiving orders to guard a dam against sabotage.  They would spend the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.

    On December 13th, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers to do reconnaissance and guard beaches.  They remained there until December 23rd, when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken.
Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove.  As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat.  From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units.  The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
    At Gumain River, on January 5th, D Company and C Company of the 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw.  The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.          

    The tankers were next assigned to guarding the Bataan and Cabcaban Airfields.  They also guarded against beach landings and paratroopers.  They would continue this duty until April 7th.  On April 8th, the tankers were sent Trail 10 and Mount Samat.  The lines had broken.  They fought there until receiving the news of the surrender. 

    It is not known if John became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese or if he was one of the members of the company who escaped to Corregidor.  What is known is that John was held as a POW at Cabanatuan and Bilibid Prison, where he was held in Building 18.   It was also at this time that John's parents received word, in a letter, that he was a POW.  The letter from the war department was received on April 20, 1943. 
    In late 1943, he was put into the hospital at Bilibid.  According to records from the medical staff, he was hospitalized because of a sprained back on November 29, 1943, and was discharged on January 22, 1944.  The same medical records show that John was readmitted to the hospital on February 27th, with beriberi and bronchitis, and that he was discharged the same day and sent to Building 18 within the prison.

    On October 11, 1944, John was taken to the Port Area of Manila.  His POW detachment were suppose to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru.  Since his detachment had all its men, the Japanese made the decision to board his group onto the Arisan Maru in place of another detachment of POWs whose members had not all arrived at the port.  The ship was ready to leave Manila.  With him were Vernon Bussell, Robert Cloyd, John Cummins, Ancel Crick, James Sallee, George Boyce, James Carter and William Jardot.  At one time or another, all these men had been members of D Company.

    The Arisan Maru set sail  but took a southerly route away from Formosa.  The ship anchored in a cove off the Island of Palawan.  During the ten days it was docked in the cove, the POWs were held below deck in complete darkness.

    During the time off Palawan, the ship was attacked by American planes.  Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice.  Conditions in the hold were so bad, that the POWs began to develop heat blisters.  Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not cutoff the power.  Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the power lines.  This allowed fresh air into the hold.  The blowers were disconnected two days later when the Japanese discovered what had been done.  

    The Japanese realized that if they did not do something many of the POWs would die.  To prevent this, they opened the ship's number two hold and transferred 600 POWs into it.  At some point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.

    The ship returned to the Manila on October 20th where it joined twelve ship convoy.  On October 23rd, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The American submarines in the area had no idea what the cargo of the ship was, since the Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. 

    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, some POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those POWs in the ship's two holds.  The ship was near Shoonan off the coast of China.  The Japanese guards on deck ran to the stem of the ship.  As they watched, a torpedo passed to the front of the ship.  The Japanese then ran to the stern and watched another torpedo pass behind the ship.  There was a sudden jar caused by the ship being hit amidships by two torpedoes.  The ship stopped dead in the water.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.

    As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the holds.  The POWs in the first hold were able to climb out and attached and lowered ropes to those in the first hold.  They also dropped rope ladders down to the POWs in the second hold.

     The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship.  At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship.  A group of 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs.  The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.

    As the ship got lower in the water, more POWs took to the water.  These POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam.  Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking. 

      According to the five POWs who found an abandoned lifeboat, the Arisan Maru slowly got lower in the water.  At some point, the ship split in two.  The exact time that it sank is unknown since it sank after dark.  Cries for help could be heard from every directions.  Finally, there was silence.

    Pvt. John B. Babb lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea.  Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking.  Only eight men would survive to the end of the war.  Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. John B. Babb's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.



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