Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth

    Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth was born in Columbus, Ohio, in September 1918, and was one of two sons of David W. Ainsworth and Virgie Ainsworth.  He lived at 2609 Elliott Avenue in Columbus, graduated from West High School in 1937, and worked as a storage clerk at a mine supply company.  Robert was inducted into the U. S. Army at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, on March 20, 1941.       
    After completing his basic training, Robert was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he became a member of A Company, 753rd Tank Battalion  It is not known what specific training Robert received and what duties he performed.
    In the fall of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  It was after the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft.Knox.  On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, the soldiers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.  It was at this time replacements were sought from the 753rd.  Some men volunteered to join the battalion, while other had their names drawn.  When he joined the battalion, he was assigned to HQ Company.
    The decision for this move -  which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
     When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.   Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    HQ Company took the southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and up the west coast to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment. Those men with minor health issues were released held back on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.  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.   The ship 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, another transport, the S.S. President 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.
    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, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P.  King, who 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 live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  King remained with the battalion and made sure they received their Thanksgiving Dinner; afterwards he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the trip to the Philippines.  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.  
    The tankers were put on alert on Monday, December 1st, and ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  At all times, two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks.  They received their meals from food trucks.  The morning of December 8th, the officers of the tank group were called to the radio room and listened to the reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  That morning, all tank crew members were ordered to their tanks. 
     The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told his men to listen up and told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them.  Most of them didn't believe him and laughed, since the thought it was the start of the expected maneuvers. He again told them that what he was saying was the truth.  As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers.  It was around noon that this belief was blown away. At 8:00 AM, planes took off to protect the airfield.  All morning long, the tankers watched as the sky was filled with American planes flying in every direction.  At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall, and the pilots went to lunch.
    As the tankers sat at their tanks eating lunch, a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the tankers thought they were American until they saw what looked like "rain drops" fall from the planes.  It was when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.  Since most of their weapons were not meant to be used against planes, the tankers could to do little during the attack.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the battalion's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks, and almost anything else 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.

    Being a member of HQ Company, Robert's duties required that he work to get the letter companies of the battalion the supplies they needed to fight the Japanese.  He would do this until the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.

    The night before the surrender, Capt. Fred Bruni, the commanding officer of HQ Company, called his men together.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men, for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement he emphasized that they all were to surrender together.  The company ate what he called, "Their last Supper."   For two days, the tankers remained in their bivouac.  On April 11, 1942, Robert became a Prisoner of War when Japanese entered the bivouac and ordered the men out onto the road that ran in front of it. 
    When they reached the road they were ordered to both sides of it and told to kneel with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers went through the American possessions and took what they wanted.   After the troops had passed, the new Prisoners of War boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. 

     Once there, the POWs were ordered to Mariveles Airfield where they sat and waited.  As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming a line across from them.  They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.

    As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese Naval Officer pulled up in an American car in front of the Japanese soldiers.  He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours.  The Japanese did not feed them or give them water.  When they were ordered to move again they had not idea that they had begun what has become known as the Bataan Death March.
    On the march, the POWs  had to pass Japanese artillery that was firing at Corregdor and Ft. Drum.  The islands had not surrendered and were returning fire.  Shells from these two American forts were landing among the POWs killing some of them.  One group of POWs tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit.  The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

    During the march he received no water and little food.  At San Fernando, the POWs were put into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights"and taken to Capas.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars.  From Capas, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base with only one water spigot.  The death rate among the POWs ran wild since they had no medicines to treat the sick.  The burial detail continually worked to bury the dead.  Often, when they arrived at the cemetery with a body, the bodies of those already buried had been dug up by wild dogs or were sitting up in the graves.  To lower the death rate, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan, which had been a Filipino Army Base.
    Records kept at the camp show that Robert went out on a work detail to Clark Field. and was one of the few members the 192nd on the detail.  Being on the detail without any friends actually had its benefits.  Robert witnessed men beaten by the guards because they had tried to communicate with their friends.  The beating was given because the men had violated the "no talking" while working rule.

    On the Clark Field detail Robert dug revetments to hide planes.  The Japanese guards encouraged the POWs to take their time when digging.  The guards didn't care how much dirt the POWs moved all they had to do is look busy.  The reason the guards did this was because they liked the detail and wanted to stretch it out as long as possible.  The only time the POWs were expected to work hard was when big shots came around to expect the work.  It appears Robert was injured or became ill and returned to Cabanatuan.

    In late 1942,  he was sent to Las Pinas to build runways at Nielson Airfield for the Japanese Navy and remained on this detail for almost seventeen months.  The POWs were housed at the Pasay School which was about a mile from the airfield.  Each morning, the POWs were expected to get up and do calisthenics, eat, and march a mile to the airfield. 

    At first the work was hard but not as hard as it was going to get.  About 400 yards from where they began working where hills.  When they reached the hills, the POWs removed the hills with picks and shovels, and the dirt was put into wheel barrows and carried to a swamp and dumped as landfill.  This turned out to be inefficient, so the Japanese brought in mining cars and railroad track.  Two POWs pushed each mining car to where it was to be dumped. 

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't get up, four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.  
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened and said that the POW said, "Tell them I went down smiling." The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head before he took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.

    The welfare of the POWs was of no concern to the Japanese.  The only concern they had was getting the runway built.  If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and select men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury.  Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work.

    In particular, "the Wolf" was was hardest to convince that a man was sick.  If a man's arm or leg was bandaged, he would kick the man's leg, in the spot it was bandaged, to see how the man reacted.  If the man showed a great deal of pain, he was not required to work.  In one case, a man whose broken wrist was in a splint, was twisted by the Wolf while the man trembled in pain.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid that the POWs at the prison learned what the detail was like.  The sick had been sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.   

    On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were working, they saw American diver bombers.  This was the first time they had seen American planes since the surrender of Bataan.  Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused the POWs to cheer.  The next day the detail was ended. 

    When it became apparent to the Japanese that it was just a matter of time before American forces would be invading the Philippine Islands, the Japanese began transferring the POWs to other parts of the Japanese Empire.   On September 17, 1944, Robert's name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Bilibid Prison near Manila.

    Robert was held at Bilibid until October 10th.  With other prisoners, he was marched to the Port Area of Manila.  His group was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since all the POWs had not arrived at the pier and the ship was ready to sail, the POWs from another group were boarded in their place so the ship could leave.

    Robert's detachment of POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11th.  The ship sailed but instead of heading to Japan, it headed south to Palawan Island.  In a cove off the island, the ship hid from American planes.  During this time, the ship was attacked by American planes.

    The POWs in the hold discovered that the Japanese had removed the lights from the hold, but that they had not turned off the power.  Some of the prisoners hot-wired the ventilation system into the lighting system.  For several days the POWs had fresh air, until the Japanese discovered what had been done and turned off the power.

    A few days later, the Japanese realized that unless they did something many of the POWs would die.  To solve the problem, the Japanese transferred POWs into the ship's number two hold.  During the transfer one POW attempted to escape and was shot.

    On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila.  The next day, October 21, 1944, the Arisan Maru sailed for Takao, Formosa, as part of a twelve ship convoy.  The ships were in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea the evening of October 24th.  Twenty POWs were on deck preparing dinner when the Japanese, on deck, ran toward the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of it.  Moments later the Japanese ran to the stern of the ship as another torpedo passed behind the ship.

    The ship shook and came to a dead stop in the water.  It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships.  A Japanese guard aimed his machine gun at the POWs and the POWs dove into the ship's holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on but did not tie them down.  A short time later, the Japanese abandoned ship, but before they left, they cut the rope ladders into the holds.

    Since the hatch covers had not been tied down, some of the POWs, in the second hold, made their way back on deck.  These men reattached and dropped rope ladders to the men in the holds.  For the next two hours, the ship remained afloat.  The POWs who could not swim stuffed themselves with food from the ship's kitchen.  Others attempted to find anything that would float.  35 POWs swam to Japanese destroyer, but they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs to prevent them from boarding the ship.

    As the ship sank lower in the water, many POWs tried to escape.  At some point, the ship split in two.  Three of the POWs found a lifeboat that had been abandoned by the Japanese.  The men in the boat heard the cries for help, but since they had no oars, they could not maneuver it to help those in the water.  As time went on, there were fewer cries for help until there was silence.  The next day, two more POWs were pulled into the boat.

    Of the 1803 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived the its sinking.  Eight of these men survived the war.  Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth was not one of them.

    Since he was lost at sea, Pfc. Robert S. Ainsworth's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.


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