Luther_H

 

S/Sgt. Henry M. Luther


    S/Sgt. Henry M. Luther was one of the twin sons of Walter P. Luther & Sibylla Bennagalee-Luther born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in September 1918.  In 1934, the family moved to Janesville where his four sisters, his brother, and he grew up 341 North High Street in Janesville.  He attended Janesville schools, and after high school, he worked in a hotel's laundry.

    In 1939, Henry and his brother, John, joined the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard.  In the fall of 1940, Henry went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with his tank company for one year of federal service.  The company was renamed A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.

    During this time, Henry rose in rank quickly.  He also became a tank commander.  It seemed as if he was promoted to a rank, his brother was promoted soon after he was.  While he was training at Ft. Knox, that his mother died in July, 1941.

    In the September, 1941, Henry accompanied the 192nd to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  It was after these maneuvers that he learned that the tank company was not being released from military service but sent overseas.

    The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco.  By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were 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 November 5th, 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.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and 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 Gen. Edward 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. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
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 as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.

    Ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Henry lived through the attack on Clark Field.  He spent the next four months fighting the Japanese as the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan fell back into the Bataan Peninsula.

     On January 5, 1942, A Company was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion.  It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep.  Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gun shot.  The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had lunched a major offensive.

     The tankers sprayed a withering fire on the Japanese.  Taking heavy casualties, the Japanese put down a smoke screen.  Because of the wind, the smoke blew back on their own troops.  

     During the engagement there was a great deal of confusion which the Japanese took advantage of.  One Japanese soldier managed to plant a thermite bomb on a tank's bow gun port.  The crew was wounded when it went off.  To prevent the loss of the tank, Henry climbed into it and drove it to a safe location.  For his actions, he received the Silver Star.  At three in the morning, the Japanese broke off the engagement.

    On April 9, 1942, Henry became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered.  He took part in the death march and was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnoll and Cabanatuan.  Sometime after this, he was sent to Bilibid Prison.  It is known he was there in January, 1943.  

    From Bilibid, he went out on a work detail to POW Camp #8.  The POWs on this detail were held at the Bachrach Garage on an island off Manila.  There the POWs repaired mechanical equipment for the Japanese.  With Henry on this detail was his brother, Maurice Lustig, and John Burke of A Company.

    When it became apparent to the Japanese that the American invasion of the Philippines was not far off, Henry and the other POWs were next sent to Bilibid Prison outside Manila in late 1944.  He was next sent to the Port Area of Manila.  When his POW group arrived, the Japanese made the decision that they board the Arisan Maru.  Another POW group was suppose to sail on the ship, but they had not arrived and the ship was ready to sail.

   1803 prisoners were crammed into the second hold of the Arisan Maru.  They were packed in so tight that they could not move.  Those POWs who had lain down in the wooden bunks along the haul could not sit up because the bunks were so close together.  Eight large cans served as the washroom facilities for the POWs.

    The ship sailed on October 11th, but instead of heading for Formosa, it went to a cove off Palawan Island.  It was sent there to avoid American planes.  While in the cove, the POWs began to develop heat blisters.  Some POWs found a way to wire the ship's ventilation system into its lighting system.  The Japanese had removed the lights but had not turned off the power.  For two days the POWs had fresh air.  When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.

    On October 20th, the Arisan Maru returned to Manila.  There it joined twelve other ships bound for the Island of Formosa.  On Tuesday, October 24, 1944, in the early evening, the Arisan Maru was, off the coast of China in the Bashi Channel in the South China Sea. 

    Some POWs were preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's two holds.  Suddenly, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship.  A torpedo passed in front of the ship.  The Japanese ran to the stern.  A second torpedo passed behind the ship.  Suddenly the ship shook and stopped dead. It had been hit amidships by two torpedoes.  

    The guards began firing at the POWs on deck.  These men dove into the holds to save their lives.  Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and covered the holds with their covers.  They did not lash the covers down, since they had already been ordered to abandon ship.

    Some POWs made it out of the second hold and reattached the rope ladders.  The POWs left the holds and milled around on the ship's deck.  The ship sank lower into the water.  When it became apparent that the ship was sinking, many of the POWs attempted to find anything that would float.  A group of 30 POWs swam to a nearby ship.  When they reached it, they were hit with clubs and pushed away with poles.  

    Five POWs fond an abandoned life boat.  They climbed in and found it had no oars.  With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs.  According to these men, the Arisan Mau split in to two and sank sometime after dark.  They heard cries for help.  Then, there was silence.

    Although most of the prisoners survived the submarine attack, the y died when the Japanese refused to allow them on other ships.  Henry Luther was one of the 1794 POWs who went into the water as the ship sank.  He was not one of the nine American POWs who survived the ship's sinking.

    S/Sgt. Henry M. Luther died on October 24, 1944.  Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.

    After the war, Henry's father accepted his Silver Star.


 

 

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