Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle
Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle
was the youngest of the three children of Edward
Schoeberle & Agnes Higgins-Schoeberle and was
born February 18, 1916. He grew up, with his
brother and sister, on the family's farm and later
at 1305 West Eastern Avenue in Janesville,
Wisconsin. Ken attended local schools and
was a 1934 graduate of Janesville High
School. After high school he worked in a
After graduation, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company which was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. He was a member of the company when it was called to federal service in the fall of 1940.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was activated as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. After packing equipment for a number of days, the battalion left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28th, where it trained for ten months.
During the time Kenneth trained at Ft. Knox, he was sent to classes that trained him to be a company clerk. It was his job to make sure supplies were ordered and payrolls were met.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion
was sent to Louisiana to take part in
maneuvers. It was after these maneuvers
that the battalion expected to hear the news
that they were being released from federal
service. Instead, they learned that their
time in the regular army had been extended from
one to six years. Those
men 29 years old or older were released from
duty, and those remaining men were given
passes home. Kenneth returned home and
said goodbye to his family and
Guam on Sunday, November 16th,
the ships took
for Manila the
day. At one
an island at
night and did
so in total
This for many
soldiers was a
sign that they
Bay, at 8:00
and docked at
Pier 7 later
At 3:00 P.M.,
most of the
taken by bus
drove them to
behind at the
pier to unload
On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the
perimeter of Clark Field to guard against
Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each
tank crew had to remain with the tank at all
times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter
Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had
been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks
were put on alert around the
airfield. At 8:30 A.M., American
planes took off to intercept any Japanese planes.
Sometime before noon, the planes
landed to be refueled and were lined up in a
straight line near the pilots' mess hall.
The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north at about 12:45, and the tankers counted 54 planes. The planes approached the airfield and the tanks crews watched what was described as "raindrops" falling from the planes. When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The members of A Company lived through the
bombing of Clark Field. During the attack,
they could do little since their guns were not
made to use against planes. For
some reason, not known to the tankers,
the Japanese did not attack the
tanks. Those that did dropped their bombs
between the tanks.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to
an area east of Pampanga. It was there
that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt.
William Read. The company returned to the
192nd on January 8, 1942.
The soldiers were hungry and began
they could get
their hands on
were tough but
if they were
began to eat
the 26th U. S.
To make things
cut in half
again on March
that they only
ate two meals
On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an
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.
Not too long after they arrived there, Ken's group was sent to Calauan to rebuild bridges. There, they were joined by Joe McCrea and William Nolan of A Company. There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
The Japanese commander of the detail treated the
POWs well. He allowed a Filipino doctor to
treat the men. He also allowed the
Filipinos to bring food to the prisoners.
The POWs were allowed to roam the barrio, but
they could not leave the perimeter of it.
Life for the POWs got worse when they were taken to Batangas. The food fed to them was worse. It consisted mostly of rice with some greens and salt. Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed. Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.
From Batangas, the work detail moved to
Candaleria. There, the older Japanese
guards were replaced with younger guards.
These guards were less tolerant and took
pleasure in punishing the POWs. Once again, the people of the
town did whatever they could to help the
Americans. An order of Roman Catholic
sisters, who had been recently freed from
custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve
POWs for a dinner. Wickord picked the
twelve sickest looking POWs to attend the meal.
When the detail ended, Ken was sent to Cabanatuan. While Ken was a prisoner at Cabanatuan, he became ill enough to be placed into the camp hospital. The term "hospital" was a generous use of the word, since there was no medicine to treat the sick. After some time, Ken's health improved.
In October 1942, Ken and other prisoners were loaded onto a ship and sent to Davao, Mindanao. They were taken to a camp about 36 miles from Davao City. There, the POWs were unloaded and used as labor. Some of the POWs were used as labor at construction sites while others farmed in the camp farm. Many of the POWs were ill and needed vitamins. The fruit that was being grown on the farm could have helped the prisoners, but it was allowed to rot on the ground by the Japanese instead of being given to the prisoners. Even the Japanese guards were not allowed to eat it.
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 each bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor, and 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 the majority of the 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, for misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and because translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Ken spent almost two years at Davao.
During that time, American forces were making
their way toward the Philippines. Bombings
of Japanese installations became a daily
occurrence. It was at this time that the
Japanese decided to move the 750 POWs at Davao
back to Manila.
From there, the POWs were taken to
Cabanatuan. When the Japanese began to
transfer large numbers of POWs to Japan, Kenneth
was among the POWs transferred to Bilibid
Prison. The POWs were examined to
determine which prisoners were too ill to be
sent to Japan. A draft of POWs was made
and Ken's name was on the list of those
being sent to another part of the Japanese
When Ken's group of POWs arrived at the Port
Area of Manila on October 10, 1944, they had
been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen
Maru. The ship was ready to sail,
but the entire POW detachment had not arrived at
the pier. Another ship, the Arisan
Maru, was not ready to sail, but it entire
POW detachment had arrived. So the Hokusen
Maru could sail, the Japanese decided to
switch POW detachments.
Ken and almost 1800 other POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up when he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in the floor of the hold being covered with human waste.
On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa and anchored in a cove, off Palawan Island, where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp, so at night, the POWs were in total darkness. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. Being sent to Palawan resulted in the ship missing an air attack on Manila Bay by American planes, but the ship was later attacked by American planes during a raid on Palawan.
Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice. Conditions in the hold were so bad, that the POWs began to develop heat blisters. Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lights. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the power lines for the lights which allowed fresh air into the hold for two days. The power was when the Japanese discovered what had been done.
The Japanese realized that if they did not do something many of the POWs would die. To prevent this, they opened the ship's number two hold and transferred 600 POWs into it. While the men were being moved, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th, where it joined a convoy. 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. This made the ships targets for submarines. In addition, U.S. Military Intelligence, was rading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews which ships were carrying POWs.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, at about 5:00 P.M., POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds, and about half of the POWs had been fed. The ship was in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China. Suddenly, around 5:50, sirens and other alarms were heard. The men inside the holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted and began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.
As the POWs on deck watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and a torpedo passed in front of the ship. Moments later, the Japanese ran to the stern and a second torpedo passed behind the ship. There was a sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the water. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, in its third hold where there were no POWs, but still killing some POWs. 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 on the POWs who were on
deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into
the holds. After they were in the holds,
the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the
hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them
down before they abandoned ship.
After the Japanese were gone, the some POWs from
the first hold made their way on deck and
reattached the rope ladders into the
The surviving POWs made their way
onto the deck. On the ship's deck
an American major spoke to the POWs, he
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."
According to the surviving men, the ship remained afloat for hours but slowly got lower in the water. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. The stern began to go under water, which caused the ship to break in two, but both halves remained afloat. It was about this time that a group of 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship. When the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed under water with poles to drown them and hit them with clubs. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.
As the ship got lower in the water, more POWs
took to the water. These POWs attempted to
escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch
covers, flotsam, and jetsam. Most of the
POWs were still on deck even after it became
apparent that the ship was sinking. Those who
could not swim raided the food lockers so they
could die with full stomachs.
Five of the POWs found a abandoned lifeboat, but
since they had no paddles, and the sea was
rough, they could not maneuver it to help other
the survivors, the Arisan Maru sank
sometime after dark. As the night went on,
the cries for help grew fewer until there was
silence. The next morning, they rescued
two more men.
In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking, but only eight of the POWs would survive the war. Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle was not one of them.
Since Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.