Pfc. Martin Anthony Cahill
Pfc. Martin A. Cahill
was born in February 24, 1918, in San Francisco,
California, to William & Lena Cahill.
With his two brothers and two sisters, he grew up
in San Francisco. While he was in high
school, his family moved to Santa Cruz County,
California. He graduated Santa Cruz High
School in 1936, and lived at 715 Madison in
Watsonville. He worked on a farm and was
engaged to Lela Taylor.
Martin enlisted in the California National Guard on December 6, 1938, and was inducted into the U. S. Army on January 29, 1941. On February 10th, his tank company was designated C Company, 194th Tank Battalion. They arrived at Fort Lewis, Washington on February 20th. During his time at Ft. Lewis, Martin trained as a cook.
In September 1941, the 194th was sent overseas to the Philippine Islands. On December 8, 1941, Martin lived though the Japanese attack on Clark Field. He spent much of the next four months driving a truck attempting to feed the tankers as they fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
During January, 1942, Martin was hospitalized and wrote to his family:
Feb 10 - 1942
Dearest Mother & Family
been a long time since I wrote you a letter. I sent
a letter to you and one to Lela around X-mas. I am
feeling fine and getting plenty to eat, sleep. For
breakfast we had coffee, sugar, cream, cereal,
fried frankfurters and potatoes so you can see
we are having good food. I had
a tooth pulled also. There
isnít much to write about as you already know
what is happening.
We have a radio and listen in to A.E.G.I.
Love your son
In a second typed letter home, Martin said:
Feb 15 - 1942
Just a few lines to let you know I am OK. I am
still in the hospital. They
said that I have indolent fever and it comes in
temperature will go up only to 101į for a few
days and go down to normal. I have
had it now since Christmas but seem to be
Last X-mas I had a good Christmas Dinner. I was
in a hospital in
On April 9, 1942, at 6:45 in the morning, the
tankers received the order "crash," This
meant they were to disable their tanks and make
their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of
Bataan. Martin decided, with other members
of his company, to attempt to reach
Information of Martin's life as a POW is
limited. It is known that he was also held
as a POW at Cabanatuan for most of his time as a
POW. His parents first learned he was a
POW in late June, 1943. During his time as
a POW, his family received six POW post cards
from him. Since each card was formatted
and censored by the Japanese, little information
is contained in them. He repeated asked
for news from home and for his parents to tell
his family and friends he loved them.
It is not known what work details Martin went out on as a POW during this time. It appears that he spent most of the time as a POW at Cabanatuan. In early October 1944, Martin was selected to be sent to Japan and was taken to Manila.
In October 1944, Martin was selected for transport to Japan and sent to the Port Area of Manila. It should be noted that Martin's detachment of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru. The ship was ready to sail, but not all the POWs in his detachment had arrived at the pier. There was another POW detachment ready to sail, so the Japanese put that detachment of POWs on the ship.
On October 10, 1944, Martin was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. He and 1803 other POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks. These bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans. Since the POWs were packed into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans. The floor of the hold was covered with human waste.
On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp. During the night, the POWs were in total darkness. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes.
During the time off Palawan, the ship was attacked by American planes. Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice. Conditions in the hold were so bad, that the POWs began to develop heat blisters. Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not cutoff the power. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the power lines. This allowed fresh air into the hold. The blowers were disconnected two days later when the Japanese discovered what had been done.
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 some point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.
The Arisan Maru returned to 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. The POWs in the hold were so desperate that they prayed that the ship be hit by torpedoes.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those 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 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, a torpedo passed the bow of the ship. Moments later, a second torpedo passed the ship's stern. 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 took a machinegun and began firing on the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds, but they did not tie down the hatch covers. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders. 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 realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and hit 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. According to the survivors, the ship broke in two, but both halves remained afloat. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Five of the POWs found a abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sank sometime after dark. As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer until there was silence.
Pfc. Martin A. Cahill lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of these men would survive the war. Since he was lost at sea, Pfc. Martin A. Cahill's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.