Baldon_F

 

Pvt. Fay W. Baldon


    Pvt. Fay Baldon was the son of Ozro Baldon Sr. & Mabel Parrish-Baldon, in Wisconsin on May 6, 1919, and resided in Vernon County.  He was one of the couples' six children.  

    With his twin brother, Ray, he traveled around looking for work.  Fay and Ray were living and working in Walworth County, Wisconsin, when they joined, with their friend, Donald Schultz, the Wisconsin National Guard in Janesville.  The brothers were also the cousins of Phil Parish another member of the tank company.

     On November 25, 1940, the 32nd Division's Tank Company was called to federal duty as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and left Janesville on November 28, 1940.  Fay and the other members became members of the regular army and trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for nearly a year.
    While Fay had been at Ft. Knox, his little brother Ozro or "Jack" as he was called by the family, injured his leg resulting in an infection.  The situation was so bad that Fay's mother moved to Belvedere, Illinois, near her oldest son, so that Jack could receive medical treatment.  When Fay received a furlough home to say goodbye to friends and family, he and Ray took their brother from doctor to doctor in the hope of curing him.  At one doctor's office, Fay and Ray were told that by the time they returned home from overseas, their little brother would be dead.  
   
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  According to members of the battalion, they were members of the Red Army who fought against General George S. Patton's Blue Army.  One day, they broke through the Blue Army's defenses and were on their way to capturing the Red Army's headquarters when the maneuvers were suddenly canceled.  It was after these maneuvers that the members of his battalion were ordered to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.

    The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day, so the next day - when a Navy ship was sent to the area - the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
  
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th, at 9:00 P.M. 
After the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.  The ships arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover.  The soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southern 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. Calvin CoolidgeDuring this part of the voyage, 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. 
   
When they arrived at Guam, on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing the next day for Manila.  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 would soon be at war.  The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later that day.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those men assigned to trucks drove their trucks to the fort, while the maintenance section of the battalion remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field, but he had only learned of their arrival days earlier.  He made sure that they had what they needed and that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
   
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 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times.
    The morning of December 8th, December 7th in the United States, the 192nd was told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Many of the men dismissed this information as being nothing more than the start of the maneuvers.  At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off and filled the sky in every direction.  They landed at noon and were lined up in a straight line, near the pilots' mess hall to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.
    The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American.  Many described they saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes.  When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.

    When the Japanese were finished, there wasn't much left of the airfield including the mess hall which had taken a direct hit.  The tankers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. 

    After the attack on December 12th, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and protect them from sabotage.   From there, the company was sent north to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta where it lost its company commander, Capt. Walter Write.   When the main bridge at Carmen was bombed out, the companies had to make an end run to get south of the Agno River during the night of December 24th.

    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. 
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read on December 30th.
 
    On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.       
    After this, A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga sometime around December 31st.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read when he died from wounds from enemy fire.
    At Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep.  It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.  

    At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese.  The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them.  The result was the loss of three tanks.  The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
    The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan.  The night of January 7th, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.

    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties. 
    One night, A Company had bivouacked their tanks on both sides of a road.  The soldiers on guard heard a nose down the road.  The other tankers grabbed their handguns and waited.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion road into the bivouac.  The company opened up with everything they had.  When they ceased fire, they had wiped out the entire battalion.    
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.

    On April 9, 1942, Fay became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered.  The company circled their tanks and fired an armor piercing shell into each tanks engine., before opening the gasoline cocks and dropping hand grenades into each tank. 
   
With his brother, Ray, he took part in the death march.  Fay and Ray started the march at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan and made their way to San Fernando.  There, the brothers were held in a bullpen and slept in the human waste of other POWs who had been held in the pen before them.

    The next morning, Fay and Ray were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used for hauling sugarcane.  The cars were known as "forty or eights", which meant they could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  During the trip, those men who died remained standing since they could not fall to the floors of the cars.

    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 looting.
    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 letter.  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.

    Fay and Ray volunteered to go out on a work detail back to Mariveles to collect scrap metal.  The POWs would "drive" disabled cars and trucks to San Fernando.  To do this, the vehicles were tied together by rope behind an operation vehicle, and POWs would sit in each vehicle and drive them while they were being pulled.  From San Fernando, the vehicles were taken to Manila to be shipped to Japan.  While they were on this detail, Ray became ill and sent to Camp O'Donnell where he died on May 7, 1942. 

    Fay also had an attack of malaria and was taken to the Provincial Hospital at Pampanga.  When he was discharged on August 24, he was sent to Cabanatuan.  This camp had been opened to relieve the conditions that existed at Camp O'Donnell.  It was there that he learned of his brother's death.  During his time in the camp, medical records show that Fay came down with malaria and was admitted to the camp hospital where he remained until August 27th when he was discharged.

    In either late 1942 or early 1943, Fay was selected to work on the Bachrach Garage Detail.  There the prisoners on this detail worked as mechanics repairing trucks and other machinery for the Japanese.  

    While he was POW on the Bachrach Garage Detail, his mother, Mabel, received a letter from him.  In it he said:

 

Dearest Mother,

 

        Received your most welcomed letters and package.  Was very glad to get them.  Glad to hear Junior. (His brother who was twelve years old when he left the U.S. ) is getting along fine.  Tell Clayton (brother-in-law) hello for me.  Also tell Alma and June to write.  Give my regards to Miss June Friske.

 

                                                                                          Your Loving Son,

 

                                                                                                    Fay

 

    It was in October 1944, that the POWs on the detail were sent to the Port Area of Manila for shipment to Japan.  The POWs were scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but the ship was ready to sail and not all the POWs had arrived at the pier.  Another detachment of POWs had completely arrived at the pier, but their ship, the Arisan Maru was not ready to sail.  So the Hokusen Maru could sail, the Japanese switched POW detachments.
    Fay and nearly 1800 other POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru and packed into a hold that could hold 400 men.  The ship sailed on October 10th to avoid American planes.  Instead of heading toward Formosa, the ship sailed for Palawan Island, where within 48 hours, five men had died.  

    The POWs discovered that the Japanese had removed the lights from the hold but had not turned off the power to the lighting system.  Some ingenious POWs figured out a way to hook the hold's ventilation system into this power line.  For two days the POWs had fresh air until the Japanese discovered what had been done and turned off the power.
    After this, the prisoners began to develop heat blisters.  The Japanese soon realized that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship.  To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's second hold which was partially filled with coal.  During the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape.  During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces of water and two rations of rice every 24 hours.

    The ship lay at anchor in the cove for ten days. The reason this was done was to protect the ship from American planes.  While in the cove, the ship was still strafed and bombed by American planes.  During its time in the cove, the POWs were allowed on deck at certain times of day. 

    On the October 20th, the Arisan Maru returned to Manila and remained in port while a twelve ship convoy was formed.  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 American and British submarines.  In addition, American military intelligence did not tell the submarines that Japanese transports were carrying prisoners.  This was done because they did not want the Japanese to know they were reading their military messages.

    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on October 24, 1944, near dinner time, some POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in one the ship's two holds.  About half the POWs had already eaten.  The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel, when sirens began to blare.  The Japanese crew ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a torpedo pass in front of it.  They next ran to the stern and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship barely missing it. 
    Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark, amidship, killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly.  A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death.  The Japanese abandoned ship leaving the POWs to die.   

    The Japanese guards began to beat the POWs on deck with their guns to chase them back into the holds.  After the men entered the holds, the guards cut the rope ladders and covered the hatches with their covers.  Since they had received the order to abandon ship, they did not have time to tie the hatch covers.

    Some of the POWs in the first hold were able to climb out and reattach and lower the rope ladders to those in the hold.  They also dropped rope ladders to the POWs in second hold.  The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck.  On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before.  Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers.  Let's play it that way to the very end of the script."  Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."

    According to surviving POWs, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but remain afloat.  It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs.   Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal, so they could die with full stomachs.

    According to the eight men who survived the sinking, the ship slowly got lower in the water.  At some point it split in two and sunk not too long afterwards.  As the night went on the cries for help became less frequent.  Finally, there was silence.

    Pvt. Fay Baldon died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru on Tuesday, October 24, 1944.  Since he was lost as sea, his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.   His family also had a memorial headstone placed at Billings Creek Cemetery in Vernon County, Wisconsin.

    One final part of this story should be told.  While Fay was a POW, his little brother, Jack, was treated with a new medicine known as penicillin that a doctor in Belvedere got permission to use.  Not only did Jack recover from his illness, but he resided in Elroy, Wisconsin, near their childhood home, until his death in October 2016.


 

 

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