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
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 same day.
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 Field.
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
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, September 18.
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 next morning.
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
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
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
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 Field. 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.
The POWs where housed in the same barracks many had lived in before the war. Each man
had a bunk and mattress to sleep on. They worked long hours starting at 6:00 A.M. working long hours even during
the typhoon season. 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.
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.
Medical records show that 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, but no discharge date is shown, so it is believed he remained at the prison.
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, 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. Anton Cichy said
, "For the first few days there were 1,800 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."
Later in the day on October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from
Taiwan. 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 escape.
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 torpedoes.
, "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
At about 5:50 P.M., as the POWs on deck watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched as 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. Those
men still alive cheered wildly. Lt. Robert S. Overbeck said of the incident,
"The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn't break in two."
A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death. Overbeck also
commented on the reaction of the POWs in the holds.
"For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed fervently and
quieted the men."
It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the
U.S.S. Snook or the
U.S.S. Shark or the
The guards took their rifles and used them as clubs to drive the POWs on deck into the
holds. Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over the
holds, but they did not tie the hatch covers down. 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."
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
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 float.
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 Taiwan.
On June 26, 1945, his family received this message:
"The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11, 1944, with
1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the south China Sea over
200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners escaped in a small boat and
reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the Japanese by whom all others aboard are
reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened to the other individual prisoners and known
circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all other prisoners listed by the Japanese as aboard
the vessel perished."
Pfc. Charles R. Brown died in the sinking of the
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.