1st Lt. George Alger Van Arsdall
| 2nd Lt. George
A. Van Arsdall was born on November 18, 1912, in
Harrodsburg, Kentucky, to Riker Van Arsdall &
Maude Rose-Van Arsdall. He had four brothers
and three sisters and was known as "Jimmy" to his
friends and family. George grew up at 108
North Greenville Street and attended local schools .
George joined the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard which was headquartered in an armory in Harrodsburg. He worked as a farmer and was married to Alice. He was the father of one daughter and two sons. On November 25, 1940, his tank company was federalized as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
George with the company trained at Ft. Knox, Kentucky for nearly a year. During this time he served as the company's mess officer, supply officer and maintenance officer. He married Esther Louise McNamer in Sommerset, New York, on November 3, 1940. In early 1941, he was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was formed with men from the four letter companies of the battalion.
After maneuvers in Louisiana in late 1941, George
and the other men learned that they were not being
released from federal duty as expected.
Instead, they were told that their time in the
regular army had been extended from one to six
years. It was at this time that George was
given the job of maintenance officer.
The morning of December 8, 1941, George and the other members of the battalion learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. They were put on alert. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, George lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.
Being assigned to HQ, George most likely saw little or no frontline action. But, since there was no American Air Force, he lived through the constant strafing and bombing. It was while George was fighting in the Philippines that he became a father when his wife gave birth to a son.
At some point, George developed a lung infection. It is not known how long he had it. It is known that he assigned to headquarters company.
George and the rest of HQ Company learned of the surrender from Capt. Fred Bruni. They were told to destroy their weapons and wait. They were now Prisoners of War. Two days later, they were ordered out onto the road by the Japanese and told to kneel.
As they knelt alongside the road, the Japanese took whatever they wanted from the soldiers. They were then told to make their way south to Mariveles. The members of HQ Company road trucks south to Mariveles. They got out of the trucks and ordered to the airfield. Once there, they were told to wait.
As the soldiers stood facing the Japanese guards, it appeared that the Japanese were going to execute the prisoners. Out of the car climbed a Japanese officer, the officer gave orders to the soldiers that they were not to kill the POWs. After doing this, he got back into the car and it drove off.
George and the other POWs were ordered to moved to a school yard where they were made to kneel in the sun without food or water. They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. The American guns on the island and at Ft. Drum began returning fire. Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs. The men had no place to hide and several were killed. Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.
It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that George began what would later become known as the Bataan Death March. The first night the POWs were marched all night. The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machinegun nest. Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.
George and the other POWs were lined up and marched all night the first night. They marched for days and were told there would be food and water at the next stop; but these were lies to keep the prisoners going. During every hour, the POWs received a five minute break. The Japanese would change guards and keep the POWs moving.
What made things worse was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells. It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells. This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.
The lack of food and water caused physical disabilities; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open. If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed.
As the prisoners marched, the guards promised them food and water at the next stop. George went three days and nights without food or water. At San Fernando, he and the other men were herded into pens.
George and the other POWs were taken to a train station. At the train station, they were packed into small freight cars and rode to Capas. At Capas, they got out of the freight cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was a death trap. As many as
fifty POWs died each day. There was only one
water faucet for 12,000 men. As many as
fifty POWs died each day. Since there was no
medicine, disease ran wild in the camp. The
Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do
something, so they opened a new POW camp at
At some point, George was selected to go out on the
Nichols Airfield on the Las Pinas Work Detail.
With him was Capt. Edwin Rue.
This detail quickly became known as a death detail
because of the large number of POWs who died from
being overworked and abused by the Japanese.
When it became evident to the Japanese that American forces would soon be invading the Philippines, they began transferring large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries. In late 1944, George was taken to Bilibid Prison.
On December 12, 1944, roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, George and the other POWs were awakened and marched to Pier 7 in Manila. George boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
The ship left Manila as part of the MATA-37 convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish and water. The morning of December 14th, mess was being given to the prisoners when the sound of planes was heard. The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs.
In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying. Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded. One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.
In the ship's holds, the POWs could hear the sound of the Japanese passengers being loaded into lifeboats. By the next morning, all the Japanese passengers were off the ship.
The morning of December 15th, U.S. Navy planes resumed the attack. Again, the attacks came in waves. A guard shouted into the holds that the prisoners were going ashore. The wounded would be the first evacuated. As the POWs were abandoning ship. the planes returned. The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners. It was not until the pilots saw the POWs climbing out of the ship's holds that they realized it was a prison ship and stopped the attack.
George and the other POWs swam to shore near Olongoa, Subic Bay, Luzon. As they swam, the Japanese shot at them with machine guns.
After the POWs had abandoned ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk. The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court. When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack.
While the POWs were at Olongoa, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again.
On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando, La Union. The widows were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and, later, on a beach at San Fernando, La Union. During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of these men died.
The remaining prisoners were returned to Manila where they boarded another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru on December 27th. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The POWs on the ship were taken to Formosa. There, the ship was tied to a buoy next another Japanese ship. On January 9, 1945, American planes from the U. S. S. Hornet attacked the Enoura Maru. Being next to another ship made it a desirable target. During the attack, a bomb exploded in the hold George was being held in. The explosion killed and wounded 438 of prisoners. George was one of these prisoners.
According to information gathered by the U. S. Army after the war, 1st. Lt. George A. Van Arsdall died from wounds on Friday, January 12, 1945, after the attack of the Enoura Maru.
After the war, the remains of the American soldiers who died in the sinking of the Enoura Maru were exhumed. Those remains that could not be positively identified were reburied in the Punch Bowl in Hawaii. Since George's final resting place is unknown, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.
It should be noted that according to the report filed by U.S. Recovery Team 9 on June 27, 1946, they were able to recover and identify the remains of 1st Lt. George A. Van Arsdall in a mass grave on Formosa. The remains were then stored at Recovery Team 9's warehouse at Kiirun, Formosa, until the military made the decision on what would be done with them. Since there was no second way to confirm the remains were actually those of George Van Arsdall, the remains were buried as "Unknown."