Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle
Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle
was the youngest of the three children of Edward
Schoeberle & Agnes Higgins-Schoeberle.
He was born February 18, 1918. As a child
Ken grew up, with his brother and sister, on the
family's farm and later at 1305 West Eastern
Avenue in Janesville, Wisconsin. He 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. There Kenneth trained with the battalion 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 Kenneth and the other members of 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. The
remaining men were given passes home.
Kenneth returned home and said goodbye to
his family and friends.
Returning to Camp Polk, Louisiana, Kenneth
and the other members of A Company loaded
their equipment onto flat cars as they
prepared for their trip west to California. Arriving in San
Francisco, the soldiers were given physicals
and inoculated for duty in the
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, James Schultz and John Woods. The group was taken back to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 chaged 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, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a 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, they were taken to Cabanatuan when the Japanese began to transfer large numbers of POWs to Japan, Kenneth was among the POWs returned to Cabanatuan. The POWs were later transferred to Bilibid Prison and examined to determine which prisoners were too ill to be sent to Japan. Those POWs remained at Bilibid.
When Ken's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila on October 10, 1944, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. They had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusan Maru, but since one of the POW groups had not arrived on time to be boarded, his group was put on their ship.
Ken and 1802 other POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks. These bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans. Since the POWs were packed into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans. The floor of the hold was covered with human waste.
On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp. During the night, the POWs were in total darkness. Being sent to Palawan resulted in the ship missing an air attack on Manila 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 cutoff the power. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the power lines. This allowed fresh air into the hold. The blowers were disconnected two days later 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. At some point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th. There, 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. The POWs in the hold were so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by torpedoes.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds. The ship was in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China. Suddenly, 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.
The Japanese on deck began running around the ship. As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed the bow of the ship. Moments later, a second torpedo passed the ship's stern. 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. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.
One of the Japanese guards took a machine-gun and began firing on the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them down.
The Japanese began abandoning ship. Before they left, they cut the rope ladders that went into the holds. The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 35 swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and hit 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, some 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. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Five of the POWs found a abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to surviving POWs, the ship split in half but remained afloat. Most of the POWs had survived the attack, but those who could not swim raided the food stores for a last meal.
Some POWs attempted to survive by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, rafts, and other flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them away with poles. By dark, most, if not all, were dead. 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.
In the end, only nine men out of the 1805 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking. 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.