Bataan Project

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, where he graduated Santa Cruz High School in 1936.  After high school, he lived at 715 Madison, in Watsonville, and worked on a farm. He 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 10, 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 because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane 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 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 hundred of miles away that had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. 
    By the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way to shore.  Since radio communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the fishing boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    In September 1941, the company was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  Arriving by train at 7:30 A.M. om September 5, the company was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment.  The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands.  To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.    
    After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser and an unknown destroyer, that were its escorts.  During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke.  Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
    The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later.  The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field.  The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.
    The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed.  They were met by  Colonel Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed.  On November 15, they moved into their barracks.

    On December 1, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field.  Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers.  The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November guarded the southern half.  Two crew men remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. 
    On December 8, 1941, Martin lived though the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  During the attack, he took cover since he had no weapons to use against planes.  When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    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

                                        It’s 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 isn’t much to write about as you already know what is happening.   We have a radio and listen in to A.E.G.I. San Francisco .   It sure sounds good to hear good music from home.   I hope all are OK at Home.   Every day I think of each one of you.   I wonder if it is possible for Lela to live with you.   I met a kid over here that I knew in Watsonville .   I was surprised to see him.   I must close now and I hope this letter will get to you.   I am going to write one to Lela also.   I’ll be seeing all soon.

                                    Love your son

                                                                        Martin

In a second typed letter home, Martin said:

 

Feb 15 - 1942

Dear Mother

                        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 waves.   My temperature will go up only to 101° for a few days and go down to normal.   I have had it now since Christmas but seem to be getting better.   Last X-mas I had a good Christmas Dinner.   I was in a hospital in Manila and we had Turkey and all the trimmings and had lots of candy and nuts and cigarettes.   I have had a tooth pulled out lately.   While my fever is down I feel good and have a good time with the boys in the hospital.   We got a good Radio Station to listen to out of San Francisco and get a little news from home and also some good music.   The weather is a little hot here right now.   How is Lela now.   I haven’t heard from her since the end of Nov. I had a $10 raise in pay now as my year is past.   I wonder if it is possible for Lela to stay with you and you could use the money I have sent home to take care of her and I could pay the balance when I get home.   Also write and tell her you received this letter.   I wrote one to her and you a while back but I don’t know whether it got there or not.   I will close now as I haven’t much more to say, will write again.   Love to all.

                                                Your son

                                                            Martin

    It was at this time that the tank battalion commanders received this orde r , "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
    General Edward King announced at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6,000 sick and wounded and 40,000 civilians.  He also estimated that less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and would hold out for one more day.  He ordered his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender.

    On April 9, 1942, at 6:45 in the morning, the tankers received the order "crash,"  which meant they were to disable their tanks.  Martin decided, with other members of his company, to attempt to reach Corregidor. 
    The tankers made their way along the coast and made it to a cove.  Their they joined other Americans attempting to reach the island.  The soldiers were able to get a boat operational and approached Corregidor.   As they neared the island, they used a flashlight to signal the defenders.  Finally, they received a response which told them how to maneuver through the mines that surrounded the island.
    On May 6, the island was surrendered to the Japanese.  From medical records kept on the island, it is known that Martin was still on there on May 31, 1942.  How long he remained is not known.

    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.  The base had been a Filipino Army Base and home of the 91st Philippine Army Division. 
    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.
    Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads.  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 to drive their faces deeper into the mud.  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 used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one.  There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on  bamboo strips.  In addition no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
    The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards.  Zero ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of "Zero Ward."  The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent.  The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building.  Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had.
    According to medical records kept at Cabanatuan,  Martin was admitted to the camp hospital on October 31, 1942, suffering from a corneal ulcer.  The records do not show when he was discharged.

    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.
    As American forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer large number of POWs to other parts of their empire.  When Martin's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila, on October 2, 1944, they were scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru, which was ready to sail, but the entire detachment had not arrived at the pier.   Another detachment of POWs had completely arrived and was waiting for their ship to be ready to sail.  The Japanese flipped the POW detachments so that the Hokusen Maru could sail.    

    On October 10, 1944, Martin was boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  1775 POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold which could hold 400 men.  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.  Anton Cichy stated , "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 there."   Calvin Graef said , "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."

    On October 11, 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 which were returning from an attack on the airfield on the island.
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.

    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."

     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 torpedoes.
     Graef described the deaths of the POWs hold. "There were so many (that died) out 1800.  The conditions in the hold.....men were just dying in a continuous stream.  Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died.  You were being starved, men wee 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 each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice.  Ten POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's holds.  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.
    At about 4:50 P.M., about half the POWs had been fed.  As the POWs, on deck, watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a torpedo passed in front of it.  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.
    At first the POWs cheered wildly until 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 recalled , "When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and weak and sick."   He also said , "The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn't break in two."   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.  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 that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was either the U.S.S. Snook or U.S.S. Shark.

    The guards began to beat the POWs on deck with their guns to chase them back into the holds.  Once they had, they put the hatch covers on the hatches, but because they had been ordered to abandon ship, never tied them down.  Cichy said , "The Japs closed the hatched and left the ship in lifeboats.  They must of 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 the 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 added , "The Japs had already evacuated ship.  They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own."
    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.
    "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 in 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.  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."
    Oliver recalled , "I could see people still on the ship when it went down.  I could see people against the skyline, just standing there."   In the water, he watched as the ship went under.  "I kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets.  Nobody wanted to share my planks.  I didn't ask them."
    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.  Oliver, who was not in the boat, stated he heard men using what he called "GI whistles" to contact each other. "They were blowing these GI whistles in the night.  This weird moaning sound.  I can't describe it."   The next morning there were just waves.  Olvier and three other POWs were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa.  They later were sent by ship to Japan.  The men in the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom.   Pfc. Martin Cahill was not one of them.

    Martin Cahill's family received this message on October 25, 1945: "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."
    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.


 


 

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