Gorr

Pfc. Alexander Gorr


     Pfc. Alexander Gorr, was born on November 22, 1921, to Sophie and Gottlieb Gorr in Cook County, Illinois.  He lived at 23 South 15th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, and went to St. Paul Lutheran Elementary School in Melrose Park, Illinois. After grade school, Al attended Proviso Township High School in Maywood.  While a student at Proviso, he loved to spend his free time playing golf.   Alex left school and went to work in a soft drink bottling plant.

    Alex joined the Illinois National Guard and became a member of the Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion when his unit was called into federal service.  His company trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, were he learned operate halftracks and tanks.  During his time at Ft. Knox, Alex became a tank driver.  He also is known to have been a good mechanic.     
    In the late summer of 1941, Alex 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, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco 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.
   

    Alex's battalion fought to slow the Japanese advance as long as possible.  Assigned to munitions, his job was to insure that the tanks of the 192nd received the diesel fuel and ammunition they needed to fight the Japanese.  

    Alex was taken as a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.  He took part in the death march and spent time as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell.  While a POW at Camp O'Donnell, Al was sent out on a work detail to scavenger destroyed American equipment as scrap metal.  During the six months Alex spent on this detail, Al drove a truck carrying the scrap metal to Manila.  While on this detail, Al and the other POWs received treatment that was much better than that given to other prisoners.  When the detail ended, Alex was returned to Cabanatuan.

    The POWs at Cabanatuan had their first glimpse that America was winning the war when they witnessed a dogfight above the camp.  The planes were too high to see insignia, but they could tell that the planes were engaging each other.  One plane, a Japanese fighter, crashed outside the camp as the POWs cheered.  Another plane, an American, followed the first plane down.  Upon seeing the stars on the wings of the plane, the POWs cheered.

    A short time later, they heard explosions to the southwest of the camp.  They knew that Clark Field and Manila were being bombed.  They now knew that liberation was a possibility.

    A couple of days later, the Japanese transferred two groups of 250 POWs from Cabanatuan and took them to Manila.  This was done to prevent these men from being liberated.
    When Alex's POW detachment arrived at Pier 7 in Manila, they were scheduled to sail on the Hokusan Maru.  As it turned out, the ship was ready to sail, but the entire POW detachment had not arrived at the pier.  Another POW that was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru was ready to sail but the ship was not.  To allow the Hokusan Maru to sail, the Japanese switched POW detachments. 

    On October 10, 1944, Al was boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa.  The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days.  This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes.  During this time, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape. The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th.  There, it joined a 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.  This made the ships targets for submarines.

     According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those 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 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 began running around the ship.  As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed the bow of the ship.  Moments later, a second torpedo passed the ship's stern.  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 took a machine gun and began firing on the POWs who were on deck.  To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds.  After they were in, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds.

     As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds, but they did not tie down the hatch covers.  Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders into the holds.  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.  A group of 35 swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and hit 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 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.   The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.

    Five of the POWs found a 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.

    According to Al's family, the night Al died, his mother awoke, very upset, from a dream.  She told her family that he had drowned. She also told them that he had a difficult time swimming because he had a leg wound.  At the time, the family members believed she was just upset about her dream and reassured her that Al was safe in the Philippines.  Only after the war, did they learn that he had drowned like his mother had dreamt.

    Posthumously, Al was awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Unit Citation with Oak Leaves, the Victory Medal, the Foreign Service and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbons.  Since he died at sea, Pfc. Alex Gorr's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila


 

 

 


Return to Company B

Next