Pfc. Donald Eugene Knipshield
Pfc. Donald Eugene Knipshield was born on August 31,
1921, to Mae Loretta Conroy-Knipshield and William
Isaac Knipshield in Janesville, Wisconsin. He
was one of the couple's five children. The
family's home was on Parker Avenue, on the Rock River,
Donald attended St. Mary's Grade School and later Janesville High School and graduated in 1939. After high school, he worked as a typist for a lumber yard. While he was working, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Divisional Tank Company, with his friend, Wesley Elmer to earn some extra money. The company was headquartered in the armory in Janesville.
On November 25, 1940, Donald's tank company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where it joined three other tank companies to form the 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion. For the almost a year, the battalion trained at Ft. Knox. While he was at Ft. Knox, Donald's brother, Bill, visited him and was the last member of Donald's family to see him alive.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill, that the members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. Although many members of the battalion received furloughs home, Donald remained at Camp Polk. The reason was he and other members of the battalion had to ready the battalion's equipment for transport.
Over different train routes, the companies of the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. There, the battalion's doctors gave them physicals and inoculations. Those men with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The soldiers boarded the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott which sailed on Monday, October 27th, and arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd at 8:00, where the soldiers received shore leave to see the island. The ships sailed on Tuesday, November 4th, 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 cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
Arriving at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, vegetables, and coconuts before sailing for Manila. 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 war was coming. The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day. At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila, while the maintenance section of the battalion remained behind and unloaded the tanks.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before their ship docked. He remained with the battalion and made sure they had what they needed. It wasn't until every member of the battalion received Thanksgiving dinner that he left to have his own dinner.
After arriving in the Philippines, Donald was reassigned to the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters. He rode a motorcycle as a messenger between tank group headquarters and the two tank battalions.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the trip to the Philippines. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts as they prepared for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
At six in the morning on December 8th, the officers of the battalions were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength around Clark Field. The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north. At first they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes. As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. For the next four months Donald carried messages to the tank companies from General James Weaver, the commanding officer of the tank group.
The morning of April 9, 1942, the soldiers at the tank group received the news of the surrender of all Filipino and American forces on Bataan. On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered HQ personnel onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac. When the POWs were ordered to move, they found walking on the gravel trail difficult. When the trial ended, and the POWs were on the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separate the officers from the enlisted men.
The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier. The POWs made their way north, against the flow of Japanese troops, who were moving south. At Limay, on April 11th, they were put into a schoolyard until ordered to move.
They made their way north to Balanga and arrived in Orani on April 12th, where they were reunited with the officers of the tank group who had ridden trucks to the barrio. At 6:30 that evening, the POWs resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time the POWs make their way to Hormosa, where, the road went from gravel to concrete. This change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando, where they were once again found themselves in a bull pen which was already occupied by Filipino soldiers. The POWs were put into groups of 200 men to be fed. A couple of the POWs would get the food which was distributed to each member of the group. Water was given out in a similar fashion. That night not all the POWs could lie down to sleep. At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the POWs, formed detachments of 100 men, and marched them to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese forced 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors. From there, the surviving POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base with only one water spigot in the entire camp. POWs literally died for a drink of water. Since there was no medicine, disease ran wild among the POWs. The death rate climbed to 50 POWs a day before the Japanese decided that they had to do something about it. To lower the mortality rate, they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
Donald's life as a POW is vague, but it is known he was sent to Cabanatuan when it opened in late May 1942. Within weeks of arriving in the camp, he came own with malaria and was hospitalized on June 6, 1942. It is not known when he was discharged from the hospital.
Other medical records show that Donald was admitted to the hospital at the camp on January 4, 1943, suffering from a hernia and scheduled for surgery. He received the surgery, but no date of discharged was listed.
In early October 1944, Donald was selected for transport to Japan. Trucks arrived at the camp and took the POWs to the Port Area of Manila. When they arrived at the port, the ship his POW detachment was scheduled to sail on, the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail but not all the POWs had arrived. Another POW detachment was ready to sail, but their ship wasn't ready, so the Japanese switched POW detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 10, 1944, Donald and other POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru and put in the ship's second hold. On October 11th, the ship sailedl but took a southerly route away from Formosa and dropped anchor 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 at some point. After arriving in the cove, five POWs died in the first 48 hours because of the conditions in the hold.
Some of the POWs found that although the Japanese had removed the light bulbs in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lighting system. The POWs were able to hot wire the hold's ventilators into the lighting system, and they had fresh air for two days. When the Japanese realized what they POWs had done, they turned off the power to the lights.
After this, the prisoners began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese soon realized that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship. To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's first hold which was partially filled with coal. During the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape. During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces of water and two rations of rice.
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th, where, it joined a convoy. On October 21st, after loading bananas and other foods, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese also issued life jackets to the POWs which could float for about two hours. According to survivors, all this did was reinforced in the Americans the fear of being killed by their own countrymen.
The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. In addition, U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines.
The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines. At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner. About half the POWs on the ship had been fed. When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship. The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship.
The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the #2 hold. Once they were in the hold they cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover.
Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark amidship killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly. A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death. The Japanese abandoned ship leaving the POWs to die.
POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds. The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck. On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the script." Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."
According to surviving POWs, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but remain afloat. It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship. When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs. Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal. These men wanted to die with full stomachs.
As the ship got lower in the water, some of the POWs attempted to survive by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, clinging to rafts, and clinging to other flotsam and jetsam. The majority of the POWs still were on the ship. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Three POWs found a lifeboat that the Japanese had abandoned, but since they had no oars and the waves were rough, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. The surviving POWs stated that the cries for help slowly faded away. Most of the POWs, if not all, were dead. The next morning, they rescued two other men.
In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking. Only eight of these men survived the war. Pfc. Donald E. Knipshield was not one of them. He was 23 years old.
Since Pfc. Donald Eugene Knipshield was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. A memorial to Donald also was created by his brother, Bill, at the family's grave-site in Janesville.