|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.