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.
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
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. Gen.
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
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 8, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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
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
The POWs walked
the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which
was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.
The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp
on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the
camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing
that the POWs had and refused to return it to
them. They searched the POWs and if a man was
found to have Japanese money on them, they were
taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several
days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the
camp. These POWs had been executed for
There was only one water
faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line
from two to eight hours waiting for a drink.
The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off
for no reason and the next man in line would stand
as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on
again. This situation improved when a second
faucet was added.
There was no water for
washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their
clothing when it had been soiled. In addition,
water for cooking had to be carried three miles from
a river to the camp and mess kits could not be
washed. The slit trenches in the camp were
inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of
the POWs had dysentery. The result was that
flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW
kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no
soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking
American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the
camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for
medical supplies, he was told never to write another
The Archbishop of Manila
sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp,
the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck
into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross
sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95%
of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp
hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only
one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick
POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When
a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated
they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp,
he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of
the dead were found all over the camp and were
carried to the hospital and placed underneath
it. The bodies lay there for two or three days
before they were buried in the camp cemetery by
other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or
malaria. To clean the ground under the
hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread
over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in
the area, and the area they had been laying was
scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out
on a daily basis. Each day, the American
doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the
POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the
quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the
Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could
walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs
reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese
finally acknowledge that they had to do something,
so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs
formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched
to Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars
with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the
train was switched onto another line which took it
to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were
taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked
rice and onion soup. From there, they were
marched to Cabanatuan which had been the
headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division
and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs
set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the
camp. The reason this was done was that those
who did escape and were caught, were tortured before
being executed, while the other POWs were made to
watch. It is believed that no POW successfully
escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on
work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each
morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went
into a tool shed to get their tools. As they
left the shed, the guards hit them on their
heads. While working in the fields, the
favorite punishment given to the men in the rice
paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud
and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a
detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine,
food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get
into the camp even though they were searched when
The barracks used by the POWs
were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put
from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no
shower facitlies and the POWs slept on bamboo
strips. In addition no bedding, covers, or
mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many
The camp hospital was made
up of 30 wards. Zero ward had been missed when
the wards were being counted so it was given the
name of "Zero Ward." The ward became the place
were POWs who were going to die were sent. The
Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a
fence up around it and would not go near the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.