S/Sgt. Albert Thomas Edwards
S/Sgt. Albert T. Edwards was
born on December 27, 1916, to Mr. & Mrs.
William Edwards. He lived at 1202 North 19th
Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois, which was the
home of his brother's, William, mother-in-law and
Al was a member of the Proviso Township High School Class of 1937. While at Proviso, Al was the captain of the varsity football team and played basketball. After high school, he worked as a meter reader for the Public Service Company. He was also the brother of Pvt. James E. Edwards who was also a member of Company B.
Al joined the Illinois National Guard and became a member of the 33rd Tank Battalion from Maywood, Illinois. When the company was called to federal duty in the fall of 1940, Al trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was sent to tank commander platoon leaders school.
In the late summer of 1941, Al took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. Those men who were 29 years old or oder were given the chance to resign from federal service.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, California, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply released from service and replaced.
The battalion sailed on Monday, October 27th, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, as part of a three ship convoy. After the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover. The soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island. They sailed again on Wednesday, November 5th, for Guam, but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.
During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The , that was escorting the two transports, revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. As it turned out, the ship belonged to a friendly country.
When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water before sailing for Manila. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships entered at Manila Bay and docked at Manila later that morning. It was three or four hours before the soldiers disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded buses for Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila. The truck drivers drove their trucks to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who 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 live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 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.
On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks. The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.
At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American, until they saw what looked like rain drops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The company remained at Clark Field for the next two weeks.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough gas for Albert's platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry when the Japanese landed troops at Agoo. During the engagement, the tank of Lt. Ben Morin came under heavy enemy fire. Albert, being in the second tank, attempted to come to the aid of Morin, but he had to finally give up since his tank was also taking heavy anti-tank fire.
During this engagement, a member of his tank crew, Pvt. Henry J. Deckert, was killed by enemy fire. Al took on the responsibility of making sure that Deckert was properly buried in a churchyard. It was only after this was done that Al felt something wet on his neck. It turned out he had been wounded at the height of the battle and never knew it.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were asked to hold the position for six hours, they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th before they fell back to the new defensive line.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. On January 1st, the tanks were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Holding the position allowed the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. This almost did not happen since the tanks had received conflicting orders that would have withdrawn them from the area. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6th/7th, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks from the tanks because of the smell.
On April 9, 1942, Al became a Prisoner Of War when the defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. Al took part in the death march and was held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanatuan. Back home, his brother, William, did not learn that Al was a POW until February 22, 1943. It was while he was a POW at Cabanatuan that William received a POW postcard from him on September 7, 1943.
As a Prisoner of War, Al spent time in camps in the Philippines. At Cabanatuan, camp medical records show that he was admitted to the hospital on March 26, 1943. The reason for his hospitalization was not reported nor was the date he was discharged. He was readmitted on April 6, 1943, but once again no reason or date of discharge were given.
It is known that Al was sent to the Las Pinas Detail. The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms with thirty POWs assigned to each room. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war, but the Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills. When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. 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.
After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again. When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time, before lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards
gave the man a
his clothes as
ordered to the
As they stood
The POW was
the school and
the men that
the POW had
said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the
shot the POW
as the man
smiled at him.
man lay on the
shot him a
them that this
was what going
to happen to
would not work
At some point during his time in the camp, Al
was tortured with Pvt. Steve Gados and Sgt.
Larry Jordan, both of Company B, for violating
some imaginary rule. In 1944, the detail
ended and Al was selected to be sent to Japan.
Al's POW detachment arrived at Pier 7 in Manila
and was scheduled to be sent to Japan on the Hokusen
Maru, which was ready to sail but couldn't
since all POWs hadn't arrived. Another POW
detachment had not completely arrived, but their
ship, the Arisan Maru, was not ready to
sail. So that the Hokusen Maru
could sail, the Japanese swapped POW
The POWs began developing heat blisters, and the Japanese conceded that more POWs would die unless they did something. The Japanese transferred POWs from the first hold to its second hold. This hold was partially filled with coal. During the transfer, one POW attempted to escape and was shot.
On October 20th, the Arisan Maru
returned to Manila, where, it joined a twelve
ship convoy bound for Formosa. The convoy
sailed on October 21st after all the ships had
been loaded. The Japanese refused to mark
POW ships with red crosses to indicate they
were carrying POWs. This made the ships
targets for submarines. In addition, U.S.
Military Intelligence, was reading the Japanese
code as fast as the Japanese. To protect
this secret, they did not tell the submarine
crews which ships were carrying POWs.
About 5:00 p.m. on October 24th, some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's holds. The ship was in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded warning of submarines. The POWs in the holds chanted for the submarine to sink the ship. The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the it. They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship. The ship shook and came to a stop. It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships killing some of the POWs.
The Japanese guards took their rifles and used them as clubs to drive the POWs on deck into the holds. Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over the holds, but they did not tie the hatch covers down.
After the Japanese had abandoned ship, some POWs
made their way back onto the deck, reattached
the ladders, and dropped them to the other
POWs. Once on deck, few POWs made an
attempt to abandon the ship.
Over two hours, the ship sunk lower into the
water. Some POWs who could not swim,
raided the food lockers, because they wanted to
die with full stomachs. Others found
anything that would float in an attempt to
escape the ship. At some point the stern
of the ship began going under water which caused
the ship to split in two. Both halves of
the ship remained afloat.
Three POWs found an abandoned lifeboat which they boarded. Since it had no oars and the seas were rough, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. Only two other POWs would reach the boat the next morning. According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sunk sometime after dark. After it sunk, they could hear cries for help that grew fewer and fewer until there was silence. Only nine of the nearly 1800 POWs who boarded the Arisan Maru survived its sinking, and only eight of these men survived the war.
On Tuesday, October 24, 1944, S/Sgt. Albert T. Edwards died when the Arisan Maru was sunk by an American submarine. He was 25 years old when he died.
Since Al died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
It is worth mentioning that in one of the stranger episodes of the war, a report surfaced that Al and his brother, Jim, had escaped from a Japanese prison camp and somehow made their way to the Soviet Union. This story appears to have been confirmed by the Russians. It was only after his family received POW cards from the Al and Jim from the Philippines, that this story was proved to be untrue.