|Pvt. Lester C. Cale
Pvt. Lester C. Cale was born in 1915 in Cleveland,
Ohio. He was the son of Alfred E. Cale &
Lillian Radloff-Cale and was second oldest of three
Lester became a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion as its members prepared for duty in the Philippine Islands. It is known that he was from the Cleveland, Ohio, area and worked for a railroad. After being inducted into the Army on March 28, 1941, Lester became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion in 1941 at Camp Polk, Louisiana, after basic training.
It appears that the reason the 753rd had been sent
to Camp Polk was to supply replacements for members
of 192nd released from federal duty. Lester
and his friends, Peter
Pirnat and Andy Aquila,
volunteered to go overseas with the battalion.
Their reason for doing this was that the three
friends wanted to see the world. Having been trained as a
truck driver, Lester was assigned to Headquarters
During the Battle of Bataan, Lester
drove supplies to the various companies of the
192nd. When Bataan was surrendered to the
Japanese, Lester became a Prisoner Of War.
Lester with Harry Norowul
was selected to remain on Bataan to drive cars and
trucks for the Japanese. After five days, the
Japanese ended the detail.
Halfway through the detail, the soldiers were divided into two groups, one group was sent to a sawmill to cut timbers for the bridges. The other group was sent to build bridges. Lester was sent to the sawmill. While at the sawmill, guerillas attacked and wiped out the Japanese guards. To their dismay, the POWs were too sick to escape. All but one man remained behind.
When the Japanese retook control of the sawmill, they enforced the "Blood Brother" rule. Each POW would be given a number. The five prisoners with numbers higher or lower than the escaped prisoner would be executed.
The ranking officer on the detail had to select ten POWs for execution. No matter what he did, he could not win. He finally picked ten men who slept closest to the escaped prisoner. Five slept on one side of the man and the other five slept on the other side. Those who were selected were forced to dig their own graves. After they had finished, they stood in the graves and were shot. One of the men survived the first shot. He stood up and spat at the Japanese guards and was shot a second time and died. The other POWs were forced to watch the execution.
When this detail was over, Lester returned to
Cabanatuan. It was while he was a POW at
the camp that Lester became developed
beriberi. According to POW roster kept by
the medical staff at Cabanatuan, Lester was
admitted to "Zero Ward," on September 3rd,
because he was suffering from
beriberi. He remained in the
hospital until February 1, 1943, when he was
At six in
the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo,"
or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men and
than exercises. After this came breakfast,
which was a fish soup with rice. After
breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs,
which included both healthy and sick, before the
POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
shown to the
commander of the
camp, a Lt. Moto, was
because he wore
a spotless naval
He was commander
of the camp for
One day a POW
working on the
Moto was told
about the man
and came out and
ordered him to
When he couldn't
made to carry
the man back to
In October of 1944, Lester's name was placed on a POW list for shipment to Japan. He and the other men were driven to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. Although they were scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru, the POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11, 1944. This was done because the other POWs had not all arrived at the pier. All 1803 POWs were packed into the ship's second hold which was large enough for 400 men. Within 48 hours, five men died.
The ship sailed but instead of heading for Japan, they headed south and anchored in a cove off the Island of Palawan. The reason the ship was sent there was to prevent it from being attacked by American planes. While in the cove, the Japanese opened a second hold and moved 800 POWs into it to lower the death rate. They did this because they realized that the ship was becoming a death ship.
On October 20th the Arisan Maru returned to Manila Bay. While the ship had been off Palawan, the port area had been bombed by American planes. The ship joined a convoy of eleven other ships. The convoy sailed on October 21st for Formosa.
Around 5:00 pm on October 24th, the ship was in the Bashi Channel in the South China Sea. Twenty POWs were on deck preparing dinner when they saw the Japanese guards suddenly run to the stem of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. The Japanese ran to the stern of the ship and watched as a second torpedo passed behind the ship. Two more torpedoes were spotted heading directly at the ship. Both hit amidships. The ship shook and came to a stop.
To get the POWs on deck back into the holds, the guards began aiming his machine-gun at them. Once the POWs were in the holds, the guards cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds. Since orders were given to abandon ship, they did not tie the covers down.
After the Japanese were gone, some POWs in the ship's first hold made it on deck and reattached the rope ladders to both holds. The POWs climbed out of the holds to the deck. Some men realizing the ship was slowly sinking swam to the nearest Japanese ship which was picking up Japanese survivors. When they reached the ship, the crew pushed the POWs away with poles. Those who tried to climb onto the ship were hit with clubs.
Those POWs who could not swim, raided the ship's food locker and ate their last meal. Others tried to find anything that floated in an attempt to save their lives. At some point, the ship split in two.
Three POWs climbed
into an abandoned lifeboat. The boat had no
sail or oars, so they could not maneuver it to help
other POWs. According to the surviving POWs, the
Arisan Maru sunk sometime after dark.
The cries for help could be heard all around the men
in the boat. Finally, there was silence.
The next morning they rescued two more men.
Of the 1803 prisoners who had been boarded onto the ship, only nine survived its sinking, Eight of these men survived the war.
Pvt. Lester C. Cale died when the Arisan Maru sank in the South China Sea on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. Since he was lost at sea, his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
The photo at the top of this page shows Pvt. Lester C. Cale firing a machine-gun at Ft. Knox. Next to him is Andy Aquila of B Company. When the photo was taken, both men were in basic training at Ft. Knox.