Pvt. Peter Nakavich
| Pvt. Peter
Nakavich was born in Ohio in 1919 and lived in
Cuyahoga County to Thomas & Casimira
Nakavich. With his two brothers and four
sisters, he grew up in Cleveland.
He was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 19, 1941, and did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. At Ft. Knox, he was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The company's purpose was to maintain and supply the tanks of the battalion.
In the late summer of 1941, Peter traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion received the news that it was being sent overseas.
Over four different train routes, the companies
of the battalion traveled to San
Francisco. By ferry they were taken to
Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, the soldiers
received physicals and inoculations. They
boarded onto a transport bound for the
Arriving in the Philippines, Peter and the other members of the battalion were taken to Fort Stotsenburg. There, they were housed in tents along the road between the fort and Clark Airfield. This was done since their barracks were not finished.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of HQ Company were told by Capt. Fred Bruni that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor just ten hours earlier. Bruni ordered the members of HQ Company to the north end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
All morning Peter and the other members of his company watched American planes taking off and landing. The sky was filled with American planes. Around 12:30 in the afternoon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. Fifteen minutes later, Japanese planes bombed the airfield. Peter and his company could do little but watch the attack since they did not have weapons to fight the planes. After the attack, they saw carnage done by the attack.
For the next four months, Peter worked with the other members of HQ Company to keep the tanks supplied. This was often a difficult task since the defensive lines were fluid. Peter most likely never saw front line action, but he did live with the constant strafing by Japanese planes.
The morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Peter was now a Prisoner of War.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered Peter and the rest of his company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road. They were told to put their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
Peter and his company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Peter's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed from incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
It appears that at some point Peter disappeared from the march. Since, according to 2nd Lt. Tom Savage's records on the 192nd indicate that Peter never reached Camp O'Donnell, Peter may have been taken to Ft. Stotsenburg with other members of the battalion. At some point he was a taken to Cabanatuan.
It is not known if Peter went out on any work details. What is known is that on October 26, 1942, Peter and other POWs were transferred to Bilibid Prison. He remained in the prisoner for two days. On the the 28th, Peter and the other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Erie Maru. The ship sailed the same day for Lasang, Mindanao. During the trip, the ship stopped at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao. It arrived at Lasang on November 11th. For the next two years, Peter worked building runways and farming at Davao.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send the POWs to Japan or other occupied countries. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent Peter and other POWs to Cebu by ship. From Cebu, on the Teiryu Maru, he was sent back to Manila. The ship arrived in Manila on June 24, 1944. Peter and the other POWs were returned to Bilibid Prison. On June 28th, he was then returned to Cabanatuan.
During Peter's time at Cabanatuan, he worked the camp farm. One day, while the POWs were working, they saw what appeared to be a dogfight between fighters. As they watched a plane caught fire and fell to the ground. It crashed near the camp. One of the other planes had followed the plane down, on this plane's wings the POWs saw white stars. It was the first time that they saw American planes in over three years.
A short time later, the POWs heard the artillery bombardment. Of Manila and Clark Field. They now believed it would be a short period of time before they were liberated. This hope was shattered a few days later when the Japanese read the names of 250 POWs who were being sent to Bilibid. The next day another 250 POWs were transferred.
On October 10th, Peter, with other prisoners, was marched to the Port Area of Manila. Peter and the other POWs were scheduled to be boarded on the Hokusen Maru, but since another group of POWs had not completely arrived they were boarded onto another ship. his ship was the Arisan Maru.
The 1803 POWs were packed into the ship's number two hold which was only large enough for 400 men. In the hold, the POWs could not move. Those who had lain down in the wooden bunks found that they could not sit up in them. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs died.
The ship sailed but instead of heading to Japan, it headed south to Palawan Island. In a cove off the island, the ship hid from American planes. The POWs attempting to improve their situation discovered that the power to the lights had been taken out the Japanese had not turned off the power. The POWs managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the lights and had fresh air for two days. When the Japanese discovered what they had done, they turned off the power to the lights.
Acknowledging that the situation in the hold was extremely bad, the Japanese opened the first hold and moved 800 POWs to it. This hold was half filled with coal. During the move a POW attempted to escape and was shot. At some point, the ship was attacked by American planes.
On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila to join a twelve ship convoy. On October 21, 1944, the Arisan Maru sailed for Takao, Formosa. On Tuesday, October 24th, in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea, twenty POWs were on deck preparing dinner. The Japanese on deck ran toward the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. Moments later the Japanese ran to the stern of the ship as another torpedo missed the ship.
The ship shook and came to a dead stop in the water. It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships. The Japanese guards fired on the POWs on deck to get them back into the ship's holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on. A short time later, the Japanese abandoned ship.
Since the hatch covers had not been tied down, some of the POWs made their way back on deck. These men reattached and dropped the rope ladders to the men in the holds. For the next two hours, the ship remained afloat. At some point, the ship split in two. The POWs who could not swim stuffed themselves with food from the ship's kitchen. They wanted to die with full stomachs. Others attempted to find anything that would float. Some POWs swam to other Japanese ships, but they were clubbed and pushed away with poles.
Five POWs found a lifeboat that the Japanese had abandoned. They could not maneuver it since it had no oars. The men reported hearing cries for help for several hours. Then, there was silence. Of the 1803 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived the its sinking. Eight of these men survived the war. Pvt. Peter Nakavich was not one of them.
Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Peter Nakavich's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.