Edwards

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 father-in-law. 
    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  the brother of Pvt. James E. Edwards who also was 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.  What specific training he received is not known.
    In the late summer of 1941, Al took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  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. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, 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 health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, 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 November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg 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.

     In the Philippines, Albert was a tank commander and platoon sergeant of the second tank platoon.  When the Japanese landed troops at Agoo, a platoon of tanks from Company B was sent to stop the Japanese advance so that the U. S. 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts could withdraw to Rosario.   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 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 post card 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.  At some point during his time in the camp, he was tortured with Pvt. Steve Gados and Sgt. Larry Jordan, both of Company B, for violating some imaginary rule. 

    Al was sent out on a work detail to Nichols Airfield.  The POWs built runways and revetments with picks and shovels.  Each morning they were marched several miles to the airfield from Parsay School which was serving as their barracks.

    While working at the airfield the POWs lived in the Pasay School.  This was considered one of the worse details to be on as a POW because of the large number of deaths among the POWs.  Al remained on the detail until he was selected to be sent to Japan.

     Al and other POWs arrived at Pier 7 in Manila on October 10th.  The ship they were scheduled to be sent to Japan on was the Hokusen Maru, but since another POW detachment had not completely arrived, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  The ship sailed to a cove off Palawan Island.

    During the first 48 hours off Palawan, five POWs died.  The POWs realized that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the lighting system, but that they had not turned off the power.  They figured out a way to hook the ventilation system into the lights and had fresh air for two days.  When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.

    The Japanese conceded that more POWs would die unless they did something.  The Japanese transferred POWs from the second hold to its first 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.  There, it joined a twelve ship convoy bound for Formosa.  The convoy sailed on October 21st.

    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.  The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship.  The Japanese then 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.

     The Japanese guard fired their guns at the POWs on deck to drive them into the holds.  Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over the holds.  The Japanese did not tie the hatch covers down.

    After the Japanese had abandoned ship, some POWs made their way back onto the deck.  They 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.  They wanted to die with a full stomach.  Others found anything that would float in an attempt to escape the ship.  A group of 35 POWs made it to a Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized they were Americans, the hit them with clubs and pushed them away with poles.

    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.  According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sunk sometime after dark.   At some point, it had split in half.  Only nine of the 1803 POWs who boarded the Arisan Maru survived its sinking.  Eight of these men survived the war.

    On Tuesday, October 24, 1944, Al died when the Arisan Maru was sunk by an American submarine.  S/Sgt. Albert T. Edwards 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.

    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 had 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, that this story was proved to be untrue.


 

 


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