Luther_John

 

Sgt. John P. Luther


    Sgt. John P. Luther was born on September 18, 1918, to Walter P. & Sebilla Luther in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but resided in Jefferson, Wisconsin, where he graduated from St. John the Baptist Catholic School.  In 1934, the family moved to Janesville where his four sisters,  his brother and he grew up 541 North High Street.  He graduated from Janesville High School and worked as a insulation installer.

    In 1939, John and his brother, Henry, joined the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard.  On November 28, 1940, John went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for one year of federal service and now was a member of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.

    During this time, John's brother, Henry, rose in rank quickly.  It seemed as if he was promoted to a rank first, John was promoted soon after he was to the same rank.  While he was training at Ft. Knox, that his mother died on July 28, 1941, and the brothers received leaves home to attend the funeral.

    From September 1st to 30th, the 192nd took part in the Louisiana maneuvers.  According to members of the battalion, they were members of the Red Army which fought the Blue Army.  One day the battalion broke through the Blue Army's defenses and were on their way to capturing the blue army's headquarters when the maneuvers were suddenly canceled.
    It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.  Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign to from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The battalion also received the tanks of the 753rd.
    The reason for this move was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, on a routine patrol, when one of the pilots noticed something odd in the water.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water. and saw another flagged buoy in the distance.  The squadron flew toward it and came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its designated patrol and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed and reported what had been seen, it was too late to do anything that evening.
   The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was on August 15th that the decision was made to send the battalion to the Philippines.
    The battalion traveled by train routes to San Francisco, California, and were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island by the ferry the U.S.A.T Frank M. Coxe.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from its medical deachment, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness.  Once they recovered, they spent their time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.  The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.
    During this part of the voyage, on Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield, but he had only learned of their arrival days earlier.  He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  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 with the 194th Tank Battalion.
    On December 1st, the tank battalions were sent to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The 194th was given the northern part of the airfield to defend and the 192nd had the southern half to protect.  At all times, each tank or half-track had to be manned by two members of its crew.  Those on duty were fed by food trucks.

    Ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, John lived through the attack on Clark Field.  The morning of December 8th, December 7th in the United States, the 192nd was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.  At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky.  The planes landed at noon, to be refueled, and lined up, in a straight line, near the mess hall while the pilots went to lunch.    
    The tankers were eating lunch, at about 12:45, when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American and had enough time to count them.  As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes.  When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.  
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The tankers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and on anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics placed the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.     
    About a week after the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and guard them against sabotage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, their tanks, with A Company, 194th Tank Battalion, held the position.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.  On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks had been asked to hold the position for six hours but held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    While supporting the 194th Tank Battalion, on December 30th, that the company lost 2nd Lt. William Read.  On a road east of Zaragoza that night, the company was bivouacked and had posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.   

     The company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  At Guagua,  A Company with the 11th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the Filipinos mistook the tanks as Japanese and accurately used mortars on them knocking out three tanks.  The Company rejoined the 194th east of Guagua.
    A Company, on January 5th, 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, which blew back on their own troops because of the wind.  There was a great deal of confusion which the Japanese took advantage of during the fight.

    The night of January 7th, A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.   
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.  They also took part in the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points.       
    The pockets was an extremely dangerous operation.  When tanks were sent into a pocket, they entered one tank at a time.  The next tank would not enter until the tank that had been relieved exited the pocket. 
    To wipe out the Japanese, two methods were employed.  One had three Filipino soldiers sitting on the back of each tank.  When the tank passed over a foxhole the soldiers each dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole.  Being that the ordnance was from WWI, one of the three hand grenades usually exploded.
    The second method was to park the tank with one tread over foxhole.  The crew would give power to the other track causing the tank to spin and dig its way into the ground.

    The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.  
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    During the Battle of the Points, on March 2nd and 3rd, the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back toward the sea and wiped them out.
   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    On April 9, 1942, John 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.  He was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan.  

    It is not known exactly when, but John, with Henry, were transferred to Bilibid Prison outside Manila.  It is known that both were POWs there in January, 1943.  

    The one card that his parents received from him indicated that he was a POW at Camp #8 which was the Bachrach Garage Detail in Manila.  The prisoners repaired Japanese vehicles and other equipment.

    In late September, the Japanese realizing that the Americans would be invading the Philippines ended the detail, John was sent to Bilibid Prison.  He remained at Bilibid until October 1944.

    In early October 1944, the John and Henry and almost 1800 other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila.  When his POW group arrived at the pier, the ship they where scheduled to sail on, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the pier.  Another POW detachment had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail.  It was at that time that the Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail. 

    On October 11th the POWs boarded the Arisan Maru and 1800 prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the Arisan Maru which could hold 400 men.  They were packed in so tightly 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 the same day, but instead of heading for Formosa, it went to a cove off Palawan Island to avoid American planes.  Within the first 48 hours, five men had died.  It was discovered that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs, in the hold, but had not turned off the system's power.  Some of the POWs managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system.  This provided fresh air to the POWs for two days.  When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.

    After this was done, the POWs 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 second 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 every 24 hours, the POWs received two half a mess kits of rice.

    On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila, where it joined twelve other ships bound for the Island of Formosa.  The convoy left Manila on Saturday, October 21st, and on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, the Arisan Maru was in Bashi channel of the South China Sea. 
    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. The waves were high since a storm had just passed.  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.
    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 guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the second hold.  Once they were in the hold the Japanese cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover before abandoning the ship, but they did not tie the hatch covers down.

    Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped them to the men in the holds.  The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. 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."  The ship sank lower into the water. 

    According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the water.  At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but the halves remained 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, because they wanted to die with full stomachs.  Other POWs took to the water with anything that would float.   

    Five POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to climb in but found it had no oars.  With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs.  According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark.  The men in the boat heard cries for help, which became fewer and fewer, until there was silence.

    Although most of the prisoners survived the submarine attack, they died when the Japanese refused to rescue them.  Only nine of the nearly 1800 POWs who boarded the ship in Manila survived the sinking.  S/Sgt. John P. Luther was not one of them.

    S/Sgt. John P. Luther, with his brother Henry, died on October 24, 1944 when the Arisan Maru was sunk in South China Sea.  Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing, below his brother's name, at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.
    Above their names is the name of Pfc. Maurice E. Lustig, who was a member of A Company and also died in the sinking.


 



 

 

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