Van Pelt

Tec 5 Arthur George Van Pelt


    T/5 Arthur G. Van Pelt was born in January 14, 1919.  He was the son of George Van Pelt & Henrietta Suber-Van Pelt.  With his brother, he was raised at 521 30th Street in East Saint Louis, Illinois.  He was a high school graduate and attended college for one year.
    Arthur joined Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  This meant that he was recently drafted into the army.  He was put into the company because the army, at this time, attempted to fill vacancies within the unit with other men from Illinois, since the company was originally an Illinois National Guard Tank Company. 

    What is known about Arthur is that he trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and took part in the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941.  After the maneuvers, the 192nd remained behind at Camp Polk.  The members of the company had no idea why they were being kept there.  On the side of a hill the tankers learned that the battalion that they were being sent overseas.      From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were held back or replaced.  Those who were held back were told they would rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on October 29th for Guam.  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. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King 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 love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

   On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
    The 192nd remained at Clark field for about a week before they were ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad.  For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line. 
    The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese had lunched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line.  Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line.  The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out.  One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon.  The tanks would do this one at a time. 
    The tankers used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole.  Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks.  Each man had a bag of hand grenades.  As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
    The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole.  The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese.  The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn't have to smell the rotting flesh.
    The night of April 8, 1942, the members of B Company circled their tanks.  Each tank fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it.  The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the turrets.  The next morning at 7:00 A.M. they became Prisoners of War.
    The members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  It was from this barrio that the tankers started what they simply called "the march."

    The POWs made their way north from Mariveles.  The first five miles of the march were uphill.  At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  They received little water and little food.  When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen.  In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom.  The surface of the trench was alive with maggots.  How long they remained in the bull pen is not known. 
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks.  They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden
boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese  packed 100 POWs into each car.  Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall.  At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors.  They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
   
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  Men literally died for a drink.  The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day.  The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead.  Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
    
The Japanese realized they had to do something to lower the death rate at the camp, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  It is not known if P.Z. was sent to the camp when it opened or if he was sent there after he returned from a work detail.   
    In late 1942 or early 1943 Arthur was assigned to the POW detail that worked at the Bachrach Garage in Manila.  The POWs on this detail repaired trucks, for the Japanese, that had broken down.

    At some point, Arthur was sent to Clark Field to build runways.  He remained there until the detail ended on August 20, 1944 when he was sent to Bilibid Prison.  Bilibid Prison was a holding point for POWs being sent to Japan or a Japanese occupied country.

    When the Japanese concluded that it was just the a matter of time before the Philippines would be liberated, he was sent to Pier 7 in Manila.  The POWs were scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru.  While the POWs were on the dock waiting to board their ship, the Hokusen Maru became ready to sail.  Since the entire POW detachment assigned to the ship had not arrived,  the Japanese put Arthur's group of POWs on the ship.  The Arisan Maru, Arthur's original ship, was later sunk by an American submarine on its way to Hong Kong.  

    Arthur and the other POWs were boarded onto the Hokusen Maru on October 1, 1944.  The POWs remained in the ship's holds until the ship sailed on October 3, 1944 for Hong Kong.  It arrived there on October 11, 1944.

    According to the other members of the B Company,  while at sea, Arthur resisted another POW's attempt to take his canteen.  During the fight for the canteen, the other man beat Arthur to death with the canteen.  U. S. Army records have Tec 5 Arthur C. Van Pelt dying on Tuesday, October 10, 1944.  The story of his death was told by surviving members of B Company who were also on the ship.

    Since T/5 Arthur Van Pelt's body was thrown overboard, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.  


 



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