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
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 5th, 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 8th
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 13th 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
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 26th, 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 15th, they moved into
On December 1st, 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:
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.
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
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
am going to write one to Lela also. Iíll
be seeing all soon.
Love your son
second typed letter home, Martin said:
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 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
havenít 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
wrote one to her and you a while back but I
donít know whether it got there or not. I will
close now as I havenít much more to say, will
Love to all.
It was at this time that the tank battalion
commanders received this order,
"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."
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 "bash," This
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 6th, 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
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.
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
On October 10, 1944, Martin was boarded onto the
Arisan Maru. He and 1774 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 which
were returning from an attack on the airfield on
Each day, each POW was given
three ounces of water and two half mess kits of
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 20th, where it
joined a twelve ship 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 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.
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
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 while a Japanese ship picked
up another four.
Pfc. Martin A. Cahill lost his life when the Arisan
Maru was torpedoed in the South China
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.