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. A Company of the
battalion was designated 17th Ordnance Company, on
September 17, and received orders to go overseas the
The reason for this decision was
because of an event earlier in the year. 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
in the water. He took his plane down and
identified a flagged buoy and saw another one 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 returned to its
flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark
When the planes landed, it was too
late to do anything that day. The next day, when
another squadron of planes 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.
On September 1, 1941, the company traveled west by train
to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. During
the trip, they were informed that they were going to the
Philippines. After arriving at Ft. Mason, they
were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe,
and taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. They
received physicals and those men with medical conditions
were replaced. They spent two days preparing tanks
and other equipment for transport overseas.
The company boarded S.S. President
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 13. 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. The ship took a southern route away
from the main shipping lanes and was joined by the U.S.S.
Astoria and and unknown destroyer.
During this part of the trip, on
several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon.
Each time the Astoria intercepted the ship, and it
turned out to be from a friendly country. On
Tuesday, September 16, the ships crossed the
International Dateline and the date changed to Thursday,
On September 26, the ships reached
Manila and the Coolidge docked. The soldiers
disembarked at 3:00 P.M. The members of the
ordnance company remained behind at the port area to
unload the tanks and reattach the turrets of the
tanks. To do this, the soldiers worked in shifts
and slept on the ship. They finished the job the
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. His company never was front line action,
but he did live with the daily bombings and strafings
since there was no Air Corps to fight the Japanese.
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. On June 1, the POWs formed detachments of
100 men and were marched to Capas, where they were put
into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese
guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train was
switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan.
When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a
schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions
soup. They were marched to the new camp which was
a former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of
the 91st Philippine Army Division's home. He was
assigned to Barracks 2, Group 2.
In the camp the Japanese instituted
the "Blood Brother" rule. If one man escaped the
other nine men in his group would be executed.
POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those
who did escape and were caught, were tortured before
being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully
escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work
details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on
these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16
ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and
sweet potato or corn.
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.
At some point, while at Clark Field,
he developed dysentery and was sent to Bilibid Prison
outside Manila. According to records kept by the
medical staff, Charles was admitted to the hospital ward
on August 17, 1944. No discharge date is shown, so
it is believed he remained at the prison after receiving
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
On October 10, the POWs boarded the Arisan
Maru and 1775 prisoners were crammed into the
first hold of the ship which could hold 400 men.
They were packed in so tightly that they could not
move. Those POWs who had lain down in the wooden
bunks along the haul could not sit up because the bunks
were so close together. Eight large cans served as
the washroom facilities for the POWs.
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.
After this was done, the POWs began
to develop heat blisters. The Japanese realized
that if they did not do something many of the POWs would
die. To prevent this, they opened the ship's
number two hold and transferred 600 POWs into it.
At this point, one POW was shot while attempting to
The Arisan Maru returned to
Manila on October 20, where it joined a twelve ship
convoy. On October 21, 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 making them targets for American
submarines. In addition, U.S. military
intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast
as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did
not tell the submarine crews that ships were carrying
POWs which made the ships targets for the
submarines. The POWs in the hold became so
desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by
According to the survivors of the Arisan
Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm,
some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the
POWs in the ship's two holds. The ship was, off
the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel.
Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard. The
men inside the holds knew this meant that American
submarines had been spotted and began to chant for the
submarines to sink the ship.
The waves were high since a storm had
just passed. At about 5:50 P.M., as the POWs
watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and a
torpedo passed in front of the ship. Moments
later, the Japanese ran to the ship's stern and watched
as 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, but it still
killed some POWs. It is believed that the
submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S. Snook.
The Japanese guards took their guns
and used them as clubs on the POWs who were on
deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the
holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese
cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the
holds, but they did not tie them down. They then
abandoned the ship.
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."
The ship 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. 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,
because they wanted to die with full stomachs.
Other POWs took to the water with anything that would
Three POWs found an abandoned life
boat and managed to climb in but found it had no
oars. With the rough seas, they could not maneuver
it to help other POWs. According to the survivors,
the Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on
Tuesday, October 24, 1944. The men in the boat
heard cries for help, which became fewer and fewer,
until there was silence. The next day they picked
up two more survivors. Four other men were picked
up by a Japanese ship and taken to Formosa.
Pfc. Charles R. Brown died in the sinking of the Arisan
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.