RickmanH

Pvt. Howard Edward Rickman


    Pvt. Howard E. Rickman was from Washington County, Oklahoma, and was born in October 1, 1917, in Pineville, Missouri.  He was the son of Emmet & Ida Maude Rickman.  It is known that he had seven brothers and two sisters, and at some point, his family moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

    Howard was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 19, 1941, in Oklahoma City.  He did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, but it is not known what specific training he received.  In the late summer of 1941, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent to the base from Ft. Benning, Georgia.

    In October, Howard either volunteered, or had his name picked, to join the 192nd Tank Battalion to replace a National Guardsman who had been released from federal service.  The man he repplaced was considered "too old" for overseas duty or was released because he was married.  After he joined the battalion, Howard was assigned to Headquarters Company.

    The 192nd was sent west over four different train routes to San Francisco. California.  Once there, the battalion was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where the men received physicals and inoculations.  Men with minor medical conditions were held back and rescheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The battalion sailed on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy. 
After many of the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   The ships arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover.  The soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island.  The ships sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the ship was from a friendly country.     
    When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day for Manila. 
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 soon be at war.  The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.  The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind at the pier and unloaded the battalion's tanks.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers, and that they had to live in tents, but the fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner.  Afterwards, he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the trip to the Philippines.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts, as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion.  At all times, two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles.  Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks. 
    At six in the morning on December 8th, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort.  They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength around Clark Airfield.  The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north.  At first they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes.  As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    As a member of HQ Company, Howard remained in the bivouac of the battalion.  After the attack, the tankers saw the carnage done during the attack.  The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps.  The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.

    HQ, B, and C Companies received orders on December 21st to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.  The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
    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 held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
   
    The 192nd
took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942.  The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off.  The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions.  According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
    At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23rd until February 17, 1942.  Japanese troops had been cut off behind the battle line.  Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket.  According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
    The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades.  As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole.  The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I, and one out of three exploded.
    The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole.  The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks. 

    The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   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.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."     

    The soldiers found a mule which they slaughtered and cooked for its meat.  As they began to eat, a Japanese officer and soldiers showed up and took charge of the area.  When the Japanese order the Prisoners of War to move, Howard and his company made their way to the road that ran past their bivouac.  Once on the road, the prisoners were made to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them went through the POWs possessions and took what they wanted. The POWs remained along the sides of the road for hours.

    After they had been searched, Howard's company drove to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  Once there, they were herded onto an airfield and left in the sun.  As they sat in the sun, without water, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming in front of them.  The POWs realized that the Japanese were forming a firing squad, and that they were the intended victims.  Just when it looked like the Japanese were ready to take action, a car pulled up in front of the line and a Japanese Naval Officer got out.  He spoke to the Japanese sergeant in charge of the detail and then got back in the car and drove off.  The Japanese soldiers were ordered by the sergeant to lower their guns.   

    Not too long after this incident, Howard and the other POWs were marched to a school yard and ordered to sit. Once again, they sat in the sun without food or water.  Behind them in the field, were four Japanese artillery pieces firing at Corregidor.  Corregidor, which had not surrendered, was also firing on the Japanese.  Shells from the American fortress began landing among the POWs.  The prisoners sought shelter, but since there was none some of the POWs were killed.  During this incident, the American artillery managed to knock out three of the four Japanese guns.

    Once again, the POWs received orders to move.  It was upon receiving this order that Howard started what became known as the "death march."  The two hardest things about the march were the hunger cramps and the senseless killings of POWs who could not keep up with the column.  Those who could no longer walk were left behind.  The members of his company witnessed many men flattened into the ground by Japanese trucks and tanks as the equipment headed south toward Mariveles.

    The POWs made their way to San Fernando where they were put in a bull pen and remained there most of the day.  The Japanese ordered them to form 100 men detachments, and when this was done they were marched to the train station.  There, he and the other Prisoners of War were packed into small wooden boxcars used for hauling sugarcane which were known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors.  The POWs were packed in so tightly, that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars.  At Capas, the living climbed out of the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  

    In the camp, meals for Howard and the other men consisted of two watery cups of rice a day.  Death was something that the POWs lived with 24 hours a day.  The POWs in the camp were dying from sickness, starvation and the stress of making the march.  It was estimated as many as 40 to 50 Americans, and 200 to 300 Filipinos, were buried each day.  For the Americans, the dead were buried 30 per grave.

    In early 1943, Howard was sent to the Bachrach Garage in Manila.  There, he and the other prisoners repaired cars and trucks for the Japanese.  He remained on this detail for 20 months when the detail was ended.

    In October 1944, the Japanese, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the American forces would invade the Philippines, began sending large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries.  In October 1944, Howard was taken from the detail to Pier 7, in the Port Area of Manila, as a member of a POW detachment which was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru.  After arriving at the pier, the Japanese switched his detachment of POWs with another POW detachment.  This was done because the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail, but not all the POWs in Howard's detachment had arrived.  The other POW detachment was ready to sail, but the ship they were scheduled to sail on, the Arisan Maru, was not ready to sail.   After this was done, on October 11th, Howard's POW detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru and packed into the ship's number one hold. 

    On October 11th, the ship sailed but took a southerly route away from Formosa and anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days.  Within the first 48 hours, five POWs died because of the conditions in the hold.  The POWs managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the ship's lighting system which had no light bulbs but did have power.  For two days the POWs had fresh air until the Japanese discovered what they had done and turned off the power to the system.  

    A short time later with the number of POWs developing heat blisters increasing, the Japanese transferred a large number of POWs from the first hold to the ship's number second hold, since the they did not want the ship to turn into a death ship.  800 POWs were moved to this hold which was partially filled with coal.  During this move, one POW was shot attempting to escape. 

    The stay in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes on ships in the Manila Bay, but it is known that the ship was attacked, once, by American planes while in the cove.  The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th, where it joined a convoy of twelve ships.  

    On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for American submarines.  In addition, American military intelligence knew that the ships were carrying POWs, but did not inform the submarines of this fact.  The reason was that they did not want the Japanese to know their military codes had been broken and that they were reading the Japanese dispatches.

    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, at 5:00 P. M., the ship was in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea.  On deck, a small group of POWs was preparing the meal for the POWs in the ship's two holds.  Suddenly, at about 5:50 P.M., sirens and bells began going off indicating American submarines had been spotted.  The POWs in the holds began chanting for the submarines to sink the ship.  As the POWs on deck watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship.  They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched another torpedo pass behind the ship.  Suddenly, there was a jar which was caused by the ship being hit by two torpedoes, amidships, and the ship stopped dead in the water.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U. S. S Snook.

    The Japanese guards took their rifles and used them as clubs to get the POWs on deck into the holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie the covers down.  When this was done, the Japanese the abandoned the ship.  The POWs had stopped chanting realizing the seriousness of the situation.

    Some of the POWs in the first hold were able to climb out and reattach the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds.  All of the surviving POWs were able to get onto the deck of the 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."  At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship.

    As the ship got lower in the water, more POWs took to the water.  Those POWs too weak to swim, or who could not swim,  raided the ship's food lockers, because they wanted to die with full stomachs.  Many POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam, and jetsam.  A group of 30 prisoners swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed underwater with poles to drown them.  Other POWs were hit with clubs. 
    Japanese destroyers, in the convoy, deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach the ships.

Three POWs swam to an abandoned lifeboat and managed to get in it, but there were no oars, and the rough seas made it impossible to maneuver the boat to save other POWs.  These men stated that most of the POWs were still on deck, even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking.

    The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.  At some point, the stern began to go under which caused the ship to split in two, but both halves remained afloat.  According to the surviving POWs, during the night, the cries for help became fewer and fewer until there was silence.  The next morning, the men in the boat picked up two more POWs.

    Of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived the sinking.  Of the survivors, only eight survived the war.  Pvt. Howard E. Rickman was not one of them.  Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila. 


 


 

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