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.
The company traveled by train to San Francisco,
California, and were ferried were to Ft.
McDowell on Angel Island. On the island,
they received inoculations and physicals, 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. Some men were
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.