Ehrhardt

 

Pfc. Clyde D. Ehrhardt


    Pfc. Clyde D. Ehrhardt was born on August 9, 1917, in Wheatland, Wyoming.  He was the son of Jacob & Elizabeth Ehrhardt.  He had a half-brother.  His family would move to Saginaw, Michigan, where his father had a farm.  Clyde moved to Bellwood, Illinois, with his friend, Art Campbell, to work on the construction of a subway in Chicago.  Since Clyde's brother was married and living in Bellwood, the two men resided with him.  Clyde was known for having a good sense of humor and playing the accordion at family parties. 

    In 1940, Clyde was working as a press operator at a company that made milk cans.  When it became apparent that a draft act was going to be passed, Clyde joined the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard in Maywood, Illinois.  In the fall of 1940, the tank company was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and designated as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  During this time, Clyde trained as a member of a tank crew.

    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  It was after these maneuvers that Clyde and his battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service but being sent overseas. Instead, they were ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  The tankers were informed they were being sent overseas as part as Operation PLUM.  Those men 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service.  Afterwards, many of the soldiers were allowed to return home to say their goodbyes.

    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 the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott 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 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.
    The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  They then were sent to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers.  Around 11:45 in the morning Clyde and the other tankers watched planes approach the airfield.  At first they admired them, but this ended when bombs began exploding on the runways.

    Clyde spent the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.  He took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line on Bataan.  The Japanese had lunched an offensive but were stopped and pushed back leaving behind two pockets of soldiers. 

     Next, B Company was sent to the east coast of the Bataan Peninsula to guard against a possible Japanese landing.  One night while on this duty, the tanks of B Company became involved in a fire fight with Japanese landing crafts.  The Japanese withdrew from the engagement.

    On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  It is not known if Clyde escaped to Corregidor at this time or surrendered.  What is known is that he was held as a Prisoner of War at Cabanatuan.  He was selected to work on a detail at the Bachrach Garage in Manila to repair equipment for the Japanese.  On this detail were Daniel Boni, Roger Heilig and Warren Hidebrandt of B Company.
    On August 14, 1944, Clyde was admitted to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison suffering from the cornea ulcer.  Because of the poor condition of the records, a date of discharge is not known.

    When it became apparent to the Japanese that it was just a matter of time until the Americans would invade the Philippines, they began transporting the POWs to Japan or other parts of the empire.  Clyde and the other members of the Bachrach Garage detail were sent to Bilibid Prison to await shipment.

    In early October, Clyde was marched to the Port Area of Manila.  The POW group he was in was suppose to board the Hokusen Maru, but they were changed to the Arisan Maru when the other POW detachment had not fully arrived. The POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  

    Clyde was one of 1803 POWs packed into the ship's number two hold.  Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks.  These bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up while laying down.  Those standing also had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans.  Since the POWs were packed into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans.  The floor of the hold was covered with human waste.

    On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa.  Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died.  The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days.  The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp. During the night, the POWs were in total darkness.  This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes while in the cove.

    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.  The floor of the hold was covered in human waste.

    Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lights.  Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the light 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 this point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.

     The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th.  There, it joined a twelve ship convoy.  On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs making them targets for American submarines.  The POWs in the hold became so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by torpedoes. 

    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru,  on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's two holds.  The ship was, in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China.  Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard.  The men inside the holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted and began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.

     The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship.  As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed in front of the bow of the ship.  Moments later, the Japanese ran to the ship's stern and watched as a second torpedo passed behind the ship.  There was a sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the water.  It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships in its third hold where there were no POWs.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.

    One of the Japanese guards aimed his machinegun and began firing at the POWs who were on deck.  To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them down.

    As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds, but since they had not tied down the hatch covers, some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders.  They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.

    The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship.  At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship.  Many raided the ship's food lockers and ate their last meals.

    A group of 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they pushed them away with poles and hit them 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, some of the 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.   At some point, the ship split in two.  The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.

    Five of the POWs found an abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs.  According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sank sometime after dark.  As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer until there was silence.

    Pfc. Clyde Ehrhardt lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea on Tuesday, October 24, 1944.  Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking.  Eight of these men would survive the war.  Since he was lost at sea, Pfc. Clyde Erhardt's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.   


 

 

 

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