2nd Lt. Charles Edward Bennett
What is known about 2nd Lt. Charles E. Bennett is that he was from Louisville,
Kentucky, and lived at 826 Randolph Avenue. Since he was not on the battalion's roster at Fort Knox, he may
have joined the battalion at Camp Polk, Louisiana, from the 753rd Tank Battalion, or he could have be assigned to the
battalion on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay as the battalion readied to sail for the Philippine Islands.
The reason 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.
Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers 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 with minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply released and replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. 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 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, 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 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15, 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 16, 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 20, 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 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. After he made sure the men had Thanksgiving dinner, he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. The grease had been put on the guns to prevent them from rusting. 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. From battalion records, Charles became the supply officer for the battalion.
On December 1, the 192nd and the 194th Tank Battalion - the other tank battalion at Clark Field - were ordered to their positions around the airfield. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicle at all times. The morning of December 8th, the officers of the tank group were called to the radio room and listed to the reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were ordered to their tanks at the perimeter of the airfield. That morning, as the tankers sat in their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch and the planes could be refueled.
The night of December 8, the officers were called to the radio room and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. They were ordered to report to their companies. When the soldiers were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers that they were expecting. The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
The soldiers were finishing lunch when 54 planes appeared in the northern sky and approached the airfield at 12:45 in the afternoon. At first they thought the planes 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. Amazingly, every bomb dropped at the tanks landed in the area between the tanks and none of the tanks were lost.
For the next four months, Charles worked to see that the tanks received the necessary supplies to fight the Japanese. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni gave his men the news of the surrender. 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, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. He also told them that from this point on, it was each man for himself. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called , "Their last supper."
On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. The first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment on April 11th. A Japanese officer ordered the members of the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
The members of the company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. Once there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited to see what was going to happen to them. As they sat there, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming 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 a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail, before he got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Charles's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles, where the POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. During this time, the Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. Since they had no place to take cover, the POWs could do little - to protect themselves - as shells landed around them. One group that 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.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese. Charles and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march he received no water and little food. At San Fernando, he was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas.
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. 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. 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 they returned.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 men, but most had 60 to 1 20 POWs in them. The men slept on bamboo straps without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting which allowed diseases to spread quickly. In Charles' case he was assigned to Barracks 1-2.
Being an officer, Charles did not have to work unless he chose to work. Medical records kept at the camp indicate that he was hospitalized on July 3, 1942. The records show he was suffering from a parasitical condition that was a result of malaria, but they do not show when he was discharged.
It is not known that Charles was selected to go out on the work detail to Clark Field a s a replacement for a POW who became ill. Since it had been a military base before the war, the POWs slept in the barrac k s a nd each man had a bunk and mattress. The POWs on the detail built revetments and a runway. S ince no rock was available from a gravel pit, the POWs dug the rock out of the ground, with picks and shovels, and screened it. At first, the original Japanese guards did not care how much work was done since they wanted the detail to last as long as possible. The one thing that was not allowed was the POWs could not talk to each other. When the guards were switched, things changed.
The POWs worked long hours starting at 6:00 A.M. working long hours even during the typhoon season without a day off. They were fed twice a day but the amount of food was inadequate. The Japanese did not give the POWs any medical supplies, and if they had them it was because the POWs had scrounged them. They were housed in the same barracks that many of them had lived in before the war. If a POW escaped, the POWs remaining POWs were forced to stand at attention, in formation, for hours. On one occasion, they stood at attention until 4:00 A.M. Afterwards, they went to work. The Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule since several POWs escaped from the detail. If one man escaped, the other nine men in the group would be executed. Men were often thrown into the metal shack that served as a cell block that had no windows and had only enough room for the man to squat. They also witnessed the execution of Filipinos who had been caught stealing sheet metal. They were tied to poles and used for bayonet practice.
As they neared the completion of the runway, the rock the POWs used, for the base of the runway, ran out. The Japanese engineers decided that sand would be used for the base on the last part of the runway. After the runway was finished, the first Japanese bomber that landed on it had its landing gear sink into the runway, where the sand had been used, and the plane flipped over on its back. The POWs wanted to cheer but couldn't.
Charles remained on the detail until August 25, 1944, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison suffering from cellulitis - a tissue infection of the skin and tissues below the skin - of the right knee. It was at this time that Charles' name appeared on a list of POWs who were being transported to Japan. The POWs on the list were scheduled to sail on the Noto Maru. Charles apparently was too ill to sail on the ship, so he remained at Bilibid until early October, when his POW detachment was marched to the Port Area of Manila with other POWs.
In early October 1944, 1775 POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila. When his POW group arrived at the pier, the ship they where scheduled to sail on, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the pier. Another POW detachment, scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail. It was at that time that the Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 11, almost 1775 POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up when he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in the floor of the hold being covered with human waste. Anton Cichy said , "For the first few days, there were 1800 of us together in one hold. I don't know how big the hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck together." Calvin Graef said about the conditions in the hold , "We were packed in so tight most men couldn't get near the cans. And, of course, it was a physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with lice, bedbugs and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description."
Later in the day on October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp so during the night, the POWs were in total darkness. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes, but the ship was attacked once by American planes while there.
Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice. Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lights. Some of the prisoners were able to hot-wire the ship's blowers into the light power lines. This allowed fresh air into the hold, until the power was disconnected, two days later, when the Japanese discovered what had been done.
While in the cove, the POWs were allowed on deck at certain times. It was during one of these topside breaks that one POW attempted to escape and was shot. Although the ship did avoid an attack, by American planes on Manila, the ship was attacked once by American fighter bombers which were returning from a raid on the air field on Palawan.
Of this time, Graef said , "As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under these conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty five gallon tins of fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked the cloth dry. Men licked their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
After ten days off the island, the ship returned to Manila. When it returned to Manila, on October 20, the port showed signs of having been bombed by American planes. The ship joined a twelve ship convoy bound for Taiwan. The convoy sailed on October 21 after all the ships had been loaded. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. This made the ships targets for submarines. In addition, U.S. Military Intelligence, was reading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews which ships were carrying POWs.
Graef described conditions in the hold. "There were so many (that died ) out of 1800. The condition in that hold.....men were just dying in a continuous stream. Me, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died. You were being starved men were dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like you were choking to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard."
Cichy said , "The Japs told us that they'd be in Formosa the next day to pick up some cargo. They had to make room on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one but didn't think anything about it." It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24, and some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's holds and had fed about half the POWs. The waves were high since the ship had been through a storm in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded warning of submarines. The POWs in the holds chanted for the submarine to sink the ship. The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship.
It was 4:50 P.M. when the Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship. The ship shook and came to a stop. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, in an empty hold. The POWs began cheering wildly, but it stopped when they realized they were facing death. Cichy recalled, "When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!' We wanted to get it over with." Lt. Robert S. Overbeck said , "When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and weak and sick." He also said of the incident, "The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn't break in two. For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips -- 300 of them on deck -- were scurrying about, scared as hell. The boilers exploded. I don't think any of us got hurt in the torpedoing or the explosion. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The Japs took the two lifeboats aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. That was about 5:00 P.M." It is believed the submarine that fired the torpedoes was either the U.S.S. Snook or the U.S.S. Shark.
The 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 before they abandoned ship. Cichy recalled , "The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have forgot about the prisoners on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches and told us to come up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of guys down below. One of them escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S. Overback, Baltimore." Cichy also stated , "The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own."
Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped them to the men in the holds. The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. 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." Overbeck also stated , "We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the destroyers, had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down the hold the day before." The slowly ship sank lower into the water.
The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. 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." Overbeck stated , "We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the destroyers, had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down the hold the day before.
"But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not tell who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been carrying Jap troops. The men were brave and none complained.
"Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry 'so long' disappeared." The ship slowly sank lower into the water.
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the
water. At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but the
halves remained afloat. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was
sinking. Some POWs attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, rafts, and other
flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them away with poles.
Of this Glenn Oliver said
, "They weren't picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were swimming for the destroyer,
but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water."
2nd Lt. Charles E. Bennett died on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, in the sinking of the Arisan Maru. Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.