| 2nd Lt. Charles E. Bennett
| What is known
about 2nd Lt. Charles E. Bennett is that he was from
Louisville, Kentucky, and lived at 826 Randolph
Avenue. Since he was not on the battalion's
roster at Fort Knox, he may have joined the battalion
at Camp Polk, Louisiana, from the 753rd Tank
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 listed to the reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were ordered to move their tanks to the perimeter of Clark Fieldto guard against Japanese paratroopers. As the tankers sat in their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when 54 planes appeared in the northern sky and approached the airfield. It wsa 12:45 in the afternoon. At first they thought the planes 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. Amazingly, every bomb dropped at the tanks landed in the area between the tanks.
For the next four months, Charles worked to see that the tanks received the necessary supplies to fight the Japanese. On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered Charles and the rest of his company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road. They were told to put their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
Charles and his company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Charles's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little, as shells landed around him, since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed from incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese. Charles and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march he received no water and little food. At San Fernando, he was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. From Capas, Charles walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink.
When a new POW
camp was opened at Cabanatuan, Charles was sent
there. Being an officer, Charles did not have
to work unless he chose to work. Medical
records kept at the camp indicate that he was
hospitalized on July 3, 1942. The record shows
he was suffering from a parasitical condition that
was a result of malaria, but it does not show when
he was discharged.
When the Charles and the other POWs arrived at the pier, their ship, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but the entire detachment had not arrived. Since all the POWs scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru had arrived, the Japanese switched the POW detachments.
Charles POW detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. The ship sailed on October 11th, but instead of heading to Formosa it headed south. Off the Island of Palawan, the ship dropped anchor in a cove. Within the first 48 hours, five men had died. The Japanese knew that unless they did something the number of deaths would continue to rise so they moved 800 POWs to the ship's first hold.
The POWs discovered that the Japanese had removed the lights from the lighting system but had not turned off the power. Wit a little work, they manage to wire the ventilation system in the holds. For several days, the POWs had fresh air. When the Japanese discovered what the prisoners had done, they cut the power.
While in the cove, the POWs were allowed on deck at certain times. One POW attempted to escape and was shot. Although the ship did avoid an attack by American planes on Manila, the Arisan Maru was attacked once by American planes. After nine days the ship returned to Manila. When it returned to Manila, on October 20th, the port showed signs of having been bombed by American planes.
On October 21, 1944, the ship sailed a second time. It joined a 12 ship convoy bound for Formosa. The next day, October 24, 1944, around 4:30 p. m., the convoy was attacked by American submarines in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. During the attack a torpedoed passed wide of the ship's bow. A second torpedo passed the ship's stern. The next two torpedoes hit the ship amidships. The ship shook and came to a stop.
Some of the POWs had been on deck preparing dinner. When the ship was hit by the torpedoes, the guards began firing on them in an attempt to force them into the holds. After they were in, the guards cut the rope ladders and covered the hatches. They did not tie the hatch covers down. After doing this, the Japanese abandoned ship.
Since the hatch covers were not tied down, some of the POWs in the second hold managed to make their way onto the deck. They reattached the rope ladders and dropped them to the other POWs.
The POWs climbed onto the deck. A group of 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese destroyer which was picking up Japanese survivors. When the Americans reached the ship, they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs.
Five of the POWs found a lifeboat that had been abandoned by the Japanese. It had no oars or sail, so they could not maneuver it. These men reported that as time passed the Arisan Maru sank lower and lower into the water. At some point, the ship broke in two. The men in the boat heard cries for help for several hours until there was silence.
Of the 1803 POWs who boarded the ship in Manila only nine survived the sinking. Four were recaptured by the Japanese. Only eight of these men survived the war. Of the twelve ships in the convoy, only three reached Japan.
2nd Lt. Charles E. Bennett died on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.