|Pfc. Roy J. Flippen
What is known about Pfc. Roy Flippen is that he was born
in October 6, 1917, in Ferris, Texas, to Lon S. Flippen
& Virginia Mae Jordan-Flippen. With his four sisters and two
would later reside on Fourth Street in Ferris,
Texas. He graduated from Ferris High School in
1937 and had the highest grade point average for male
students. It is known he worked construction after high school.
Roy was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 21, 1941, in Dallas, Texas, and did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Afterwards, he went to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent there from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
After the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941, the National Guardsmen in the 192nd who were 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service. Roy volunteered to join the battalion and was assigned to HQ Company.
Roy returned home to say his goodbyes and married Virginia. She had grown up in the next town over from Ferris, but she resided at 3409 Worth Street in Dallas. He returned to Camp Polk, and awaited orders.
The battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived in San Francisco, California, They were taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island they were inoculated and given physicals. Any man who needed some sort of medical treatment was held back and scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island. On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. They sailed the same day for Manila. The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th. They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King. The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
At six in the morning, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to move their platoons to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. The 192nd had been assigned to the southern portion of the airfield. The tankers watched that morning as the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers watched as 54 planes approached the airfield. As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
As a member of HQ Company, Roy remained in the bivouac of the battalion. After the attack, the tankers saw the carnage done during the attack. The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps. The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
Roy took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23rd until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had advanced and been pushed back. Two pockets of Japanese were cut off behind the battle line. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket. According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades. As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole. The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I, and one out of three exploded.
The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole. The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks.
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M. The members of the HQ Company remained in their bivouac. Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. Somehow Bruni came up with enough food to have what he called, "their last supper."
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. Roy was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the 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.
The 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, the POWs were 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 since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by 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. The POWs had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. The POWs were formed into detachments and marched to the train station.
At San Fernando, The POWs were put into small wooden boxcars 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 cars at Capas. From Capas, the POWs 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. The death rate among the POWs was as high as fifty men a day. Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The death rate in the camp got so bad that Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan. Roy, being one of the healthier POWs was sent to the camp. It appears he became ill while out on the work detail, because hospital records show that he was in the camp hospital on July 23, 1942. At that time, he was tested for tuberculosis. His results were negative.
According to Roy's family, Roy's cousin, M.C. was a Marine who was captured on Corregidor when it surrendered on May 6th, 1942. M.C. - after he was liberated at the end of the war - told his family that his POW detachment was marching toward to the POW camp when they saw another POW detachment marching in the opposite direction. As the detachments passed each other, M.C. saw that Roy was one of the POWs marching in the other direction. M.C. was the last member of the Flippen family to see Roy alive. The detail that Roy went out on was being sent to Lipa, Batangas, and later to Ft. McKinley. It is believed the detail cleaned up of junk left behind from the battle. From Ft. McKinley the POWs were sent to Camp Murphy to build runways at Zablan Airfield.
The detail next was sent, on January 29, 1943, to Neilsen Airfield to build runways. It was while he was there, that he crushed one of the fingers on his right hand and was sent to Bilibid Prison for medical treatment. Medical records indicate he was admitted to the hospital on May 21, 1943 and remained there until he was discharged, and sent to Cabanatuan, on June 28, 1943.
On August 20, 1944, Roy was selected to be sent to Japan. He and the other POWs were sent to Bilibid and housed in Building 12 which was designated as "the Casual Group." He was admitted to the hospital on September 1, 1944, from Building 12. When he was considered to have recovered, he returned to Building #12 at Bilibid. By the time he was discharged, the original POW draft he had been a member of had already sailed for Japan.
In early October, Roy and 1802 other prisoners were taken to the Port Area of Manila. When they arrived their ship, the Hokusan Maru was ready to sail but not all of the POW detachment had arrived. There was another detachment of POWs scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru which was not ready to sail. Roy's cousin, M.C. was in this detachment. The Japanese switched detachments so that the Hokusan Maru could sail. When all the POWs in Roy's detachment had arrived they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. The POWs were packed into the ship's first hold which comfortably could hold 400 men. During the first two days, five POWs died.
The ship sailed on October 10th but instead of heading for Formosa it headed south. Off Palawan Island, the ship anchored in a cove to avoid American planes. During the time, the ship was attacked by American planes at least once. The POWs in the hold realized tha the power to the lights had not be turned off. so they hot wired the hold's ventilation system into it. For two days they had fresh air until the Japanese turned off the power. The situation grew worse and many of the POWs developed heat blisters. It was at this time that the Japanese opened the second hold and transferred POWs into it. During the transfer, one POW tried to escape and was shot.
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th and joined another eleven ships to form a convoy. The ship sailed again on October 21st. The second day at sea, the Japanese issued each POW life a jacket. The life jackets would keep a man afloat for two hours. Doing this confirmed the belief that many of the POWs had that they would never reach Japan.
In the South China Sea, the convoy came under attack by American submarines. Since the POW ships were not marked with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs, the subs had no idea if there were POWs on any of the ships. On Tuesday, October 24, 1944, around 5:00 P.M., some POWs were on deck cooking dinner for other prisoners. The ship was in the Bashi Channel off the coast of China when sirens suddenly were heard and bells rang. The Japanese guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a torpedo went wide of the bow. The guards ran toward the stern of the ship and watched as a second torpedo went wide of the stern. The next two torpedoes hit the ship amidships. The ship shook and stopped dead in the water.
The Japanese guards chased the POWs on deck the POWs on deck into the holds by aiming their guns at them. Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds. Before the Japanese abandoned ship. they put the hatch covers back on the holds, but they did not tie them down. After the Japanese had abandoned ship, some of the POWs in the second hold were able to make it on deck. They reattached the ladders so the other POWs could get out.
Since a number of POWs could not swim, they raided the ship's food lockers. They wanted to die with full stomachs. One group of POW swam to a Japanese destroyer. When they reached the ship and the crew realized the men were Americans, they were pushed away with poles or hit with clubs as they climbed onto the ship.
Sometime after dark, the ship split in two but stayed afloat for two hours. Those who could swim attempted to build rafts from what they found on the ship's deck. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it occurred after dark. Before it sank, many of the POWs took to the water on anything that would float. A storm had just passed, so the waves were five feet high. Three POWs made it to an abandoned life boat and managed to climb into it. Since the boat had no oars, they could not maneuver it to help others in the water. The survivors stated that as the night went on the cried for help became fewer and then there was silence. The next morning they found two other POWs clinging to wreckage and pulled them into the boat.
Of the 1783 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking of the Arisan Maru. Of the nine, eight saw the end of the war. Pfc. Roy Flippen was not one of them. His wife would later receive his Purple Heart.
Since he was lost at sea, Pfc. Roy Flippen's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the new American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
It is worth mentioning that Roy's family kept in touch with Roy's wife, Virginia, while he was a POW. Once the news of his death reached them and Virginia, they slowly lost touch with each other. They did know that she moved away and remarried.
In 2014, Virginia's son, from her second marriage, contacted the Flippen family. He told them that he had Roy's Purple Heart and wanted to return it to his family. He returned the medal to Roy's sister, Edna, and told her that as a child he found the medal and a few other possessions of Roy's. When he asked his mother who the medals belonged to, she told him that she was holding the things for a friend. He also said his mother never spoke about Roy until near the end of her life on her death bed.