Cpl. Howard Milton Wodrich
Cpl. Howard M. Wodrich was one of four children born
to Otto and Helen Wodrich. He was born on
September 1, 1919, in Oak Harbor, Ohio, and was raised
in Port Clinton, Ohio, at 230 Adams Street.
In the fall of 1940, Howard was called to federal service when his Ohio National Guard Company was federalized. He trained for nearly a year at Fort Knox, Kentucky and took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers that Howard learned that the 192nd Tank Battalion was being sent overseas.
Over different train routes that companies of the battalion made their way to San Francisco, California. Also arriving with them were their "new" M3 Tanks. Once in San Francisco, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island. There they received physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island. On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.
When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th. They docked at Pier 7. After several hours the soldiers disembarked and most and the were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. The maintenance crews remained behind to unload the tanks from the ship.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King. The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 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 8, 1941, December 7th in the United States, Howard lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Since the tankers had no weapons to use against planes, all they could do is watch as the Japanese bombed the airfield. For the next four months Howard fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands.
It is not known if Howard took part in the death march. What is known is that Howard was held as a prisoner at Cabanatuan. Later on, he was sent to Manila and worked on the Bachrach Garage detail. The POWs on this detail repaired trucks and other equipment for the Japanese.
In early October 1944, the Japanese, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the American forces would invade the Philippines, began sending large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries. On October 11, 1944, Howard was taken to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. The POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru and packed into the ship's hold. The next day 80 POWs were moved to the ship's other hold which was partially filled with coal.
On October 10, 1944, John was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. On October 11th, the ship sailed but took a southerly route away from Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. During this time, one POW died.
The stay in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes on ships in the Manila Bay. It is known that the ship was attacked once by American planes while in the cove. The Arisan Maru returned to the 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.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, at 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those POWs in the ship's two holds. The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel. Suddenly, there was a sudden jar which was caused by the ship being hit by two torpedoes. The ship stopped dead in the water. Two torpedoes had hit the ship 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 machinegun and began firing at the POWs who were on deck. To escape the fire, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two occupied holds. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders into the holds. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.
All of 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 men swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and clubs. 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. Those POWs too weak to swim raided the ship's food lockers. They wanted to die with full stomachs. Many POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Nine POWs found a abandoned lifeboat floating in the ocean. These men stated that 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. According to the surviving POWs, as evening became night, the cries for help became fewer and fewer until there was silence.
Cpl. Howard M. Wodrich died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru on October 24, 1944. Since he died at sea, his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.