Sgt. John P. Luther
Sgt. John P. Luther was born
in 1916 to Walter P. & Sebilla Luther in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1934, the family
moved to Janesville where his four sisters,
his brother and he grew up 541 North High Street
in Janesville. He attended Janesville
schools, and after high school, he worked as a
In 1939, John and his brother, Henry, joined the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard. In the fall of 1940, John 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, John's brother, Henry, rose in rank quickly. It seemed as if he was promoted to a rank, John was promoted soon after he was to the same rank. While he was training at Ft. Knox, that his mother died in July, 1941.
In the September, 1941, John 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.
Ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. John 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.
During the Battle of Bataan, John is credited in recovering a disabled tank from the enemy. Outside Manila, a tank had been knocked out when a Japanese soldier placed a thermite grenade on the bow gun mount. John made his way to the tank while under fire. He got into the tank and drove it to safety. For his accomplishment, John was awarded the Silver Star.
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. The POWs on this detail were held at the Bachrach Garage in Manila. The prisoners repaired Japanese vehicles and other equipment.
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.
On October 11, 1944, the John and Henry and 1798 other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila. When they arrived, the Japanese switched the POWs from the Hokusen Maru to the Arisan Maru. This was done since the ship was ready to sail and the POWs scheduled to sail on the ship had not all arrived.
The ship sailed but headed to Palawan Island. There it dropped anchor in a cove to avoid American planes. The conditions in the hold were so bad that five POWs died in the first 48 hours. The POWs wired the hold's ventilation system into the lights. The Japanese had removed the bulbs but had not turned off the power. For two days, the POWs had fresh air. This ended when the Japanese found out what the POWs had done and turned off the power.
When the POWs began to develop heat blisters, the Japanese decided it was time to do something. 800 of the POWs were transferred from the second hold to the first hold which was partially filled with coal.
On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila. There it joined twelve other ships bound for the Island of Formosa. The convoy left Manila on October 21st. On Tuesday, October 24, 1944, the Arisan Maru was in Bashi channel of the South China Sea. A group of POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ships holds. Suddenly, they saw the Japanese run to the bow of the ship. A torpedo passed in front of the ship. Moments later, the Japanese ran to the stern, a second torpedo passed behind the ship. The ship shook and came to a stop. It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships.
The Japanese were ordered to abandoned ship. Before they did, they fired their weapons at the prisoners on deck until they reentered the holds. The Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and covered them with their hatch covers, but they did not tie them down. They then abandoned ship.
Some of the POWs from the second hold climbed out and reattached the ladders. The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. 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. Others attempted to use anything that would float. According to the survivors, the Arisan Mau split in to two and sank sometime after dark. They heard cries for help until there was silence.
Although most of the prisoners survived the submarine attack, they died when the Japanese refused to allow them on other ships. Sgt. John P. 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.
Sgt. John P. Luther, with his brother Henry, died on October 24, 1944 when the Arisan Maru sunk. 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.
After the war, John's father accepted his Silver Star.