Schoeberle

 

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 tobacco warehouse.

    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 friends.           
    Returning to Camp Polk, Louisiana, the members of the battalion loaded their equipment onto flat cars as they prepared for their trip west to California
.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippines.  Those men found to have minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the company at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. During thi    

   When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.    
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.

    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.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    That night, the tankers lived through several more air raids, so those men not assigned to tanks or half-tracks slept in a dried up latrine, near their bivouac, to protect themselves from planes. None of the men had any idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
    The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12th, so it would be close to a highway and railroad to protect them against saboteurs.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. 
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
    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.

    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.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank had left the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.

    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 day.
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.    
    On March 2nd or 3rd, during "The Battle of the Points," Ken was wounded.  The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line.  The Japanese were soon cut off.  Ken's wounds were not serious since he was with his company less than a month later.
    The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.

    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.
    Ken became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.  He took part in the death march and was first held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell.  About ten days after arriving in the camp, Ken went out on a bridge building detail.  With him on the detail were Col. Ted Wickord, 192nd Tank Battalion Commander, Capt. Donald Hanes, Lewis Wallisch, Forrest Teal, Dale Lawton, Bob Stewart, James Schultz and John Woods.  The group was taken back to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. 
Once out of the camp, the POWs were broken into four detachments of 250 men each. 

    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.
    On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck.  Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed.  The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th.  The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse, until they were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship which arrived at Manila on June 25th.

    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 Empire.

    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 holds.  The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck.  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."

    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 POWs.  According to 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.


 

 

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