Charles Robert Brown
Pfc. Charles R. Brown was born on December 16, 1922, in
New Martinsville, West Virginia. By 1930, he was
living with his grandparents, Josiah & Maud McVaney
in Upshur County, West Virginia.
On January 7, 1941, he enlisted into the U.S. Army at Fort Hayes, Ohio. He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and assigned to A Company, 19th Ordnance Battalion. The company was later reorganized as 17th Ordnance Company.
In September 1941, 17th Ordnance was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the Provisional Tank Group. The company boarded U.S.S. Calvin Coolidge on September 8, 1941, and sailed at 9:00 P.M. It arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th. While in port, the soldiers were given shore leave for the day and had to report back before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M. On September 26th, the ship reached Manila and the soldiers disembarked. The members of the ordnance company remained behind at the port area to unload the tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion. They also reattached the tanks' turrets. On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fred lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. He spent the next four months servicing the tanks of the the tank group.
On April 9, 1942, Charles became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. There, the POWs were boarded onto small wooden boxcars that could hold forty men or eight horses. One hundred men were packed into each car. The dead remained standing until the living left the cars. He then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Camp which the Japanese pressed into service as a POW Camp. As many as fifty men died each day. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. Fred was sent to Cabanatuan when the new camp opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell. He was assigned to Barracks 2, Group 2.
While a POW at
the camp, he was admitted to the camp hospital January
15, 1943. It is not known why he was admitted or
when he was discharged. At some point, Charles was
sent out on a work detail to Clark Airfield. Since
his name is not on the original roster of POWs sent to
the airfield, it is believed he was a replacement for a
POW who was too ill to continue working.
In early October, Charles's name appeared on a list of POWs who were going to be sent to the Port Area of Manila. The men were scheduled to board the Houkusan Maru. When they arrived at the docks, their ship was ready to sail, but their company of POWs had not completely arrived. Being that another detachment of POWs was ready for transport, the Japanese boarded that group of POWs onto the Hokusen Maru.
On October 10, 1944, Charles was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. On October 11th, the ship set sailed but took a southerly route away from Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes. During this time, because of conditions in the hold, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape.
The POWs also discovered that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the holds, but they had not turned off the power. The ingenious POWs managed to hot wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system giving the POWs three days of fresh air. When the Japanese discovered what the POWs had done, they turned off the power to the hold. When POWs began to die, the Japanese moved some of the POWs to a second hold.
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th. There, it joined a convoy. 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 submarines.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the dinner for the POWs in the ship's two holds. The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Nashi Channel. Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard. The men inside holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted and began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.
The Japanese on deck began running around the ship. As the POWs watched the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship, a torpedo passed in front of the ship. Moments later, the Japanese ran to the ship's stern. A second torpedo passed behind the ship. There was a sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the water. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, in its third hold where there were no POWs. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.
One of the Japanese guards began to threaten the POWs on deck with his machine-gun. To escape, the POWs climbed back into the holds. After they were in the hold, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie the hatch covers down.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds but did not tie down the hatch covers. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders into both holds. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.
The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 35 swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese sailors realized they were POWs, they pushed the POWs away with poles and hit them with clubs. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.
As the ship got lower in the water, some POWs took to the water. These POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking. Those POWs who could not swim raided the ship's food lockers. They wanted to die with full stomachs. At some point, the ship split in two. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Three POWs found a abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. The next day, they pulled two more men into the boat. According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sank sometime after dark. As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer and fewer until there was silence.
Pfc. Charles R. Brown died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru. Posthumously, Charles was awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Unit Citation with Oak Leaves, the Victory Medal, the Foreign Service and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbons.
Since he died at sea, Pfc. Charles R. Brown's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila. In addition, his family had a headstone placed at Otterbain Cemetery in Glenville, West Virginia, in his memory.