Pvt. Wilbur Charles callison
Pvt. Wilbur C. Callison was the son of Albert A. Callison & Clara M. Stuber-Callison. He was born in 1918 in
Wise Township, Michigan. It is known that he had two brothers, one who died at age ten, and two sisters. In
1940, he was living in Merrill Village, Michigan, married to Inez, and working as a bank clerk for the Farmer's Bank.
Wilbur enlisted in the U.S. Army on January 9, 1941, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
At Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion. A company of the battalion would later be reorganized as 17th Ordnance Company. The exact raining he received is not known.
On August 15, 1941, orders were issued for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. 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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. 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, 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 one of 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 company arrived at Ft. Stostenburg and were housed in tents since their barracks had not been finished. The men would not get into their barracks until November 15. When the 192nd Tank Battlion arrived in the Philippines, the company's members helped to unload the tanks and ready them for service.
On December 8, 1941, Wilbur lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield just ten hours after Pearl Harbor. His company worked to keep the tanks of the 192nd & 194th Tank Battalions supplied with gasoline, ammunition, and running.
Wilbur became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. He, like the other POWs, received little food and water. At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men. Each boxcar was packed with 100 men. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out at Capas. They then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell, an unfinished Filipino Army Base, was pressed into service by the Japanese as a POW Camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work.
The Japanese recognized that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan, and Wilbur was sent to the 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 onion soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a former Philippine Army Base, Camp Panagaian, and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division's home.
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.
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.
On August 29, 1942, Walter was hospitalized in the camp hospital because he was suffering from dysentery and malaria. He was discharged from the hospital on November 6, 1942, and remained in the camp until he went out on a work Las Pinas detail on December 12, 1942. The POWs built an airfield with shovels and pickaxes. The Japanese treatment of the POWs was brutal. POWs were killed for violating rules.
Wilbur remained in the camp until October 12, 1942, when he went out on a work detail to Ft. McKinley. When the detail started, the POWs were issued coconut fiber hats and shoes. Both these items did not last long on the detail. Later, the hats were replaced by Red Cross hats and new shoes in the Red Cross packages the POWs received in November 1943. Although clothing was repeatedly issued, there was never enugh given out.
The POWs lived in the barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts. Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on sawale floor mats and in ten men mosquito nets issued by the Japanese. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets. The meals for the POWs were cooked in four halves of 50 gallon oil barrows. They remained there until they were done cleaning up junk that had been left from the fighting.
The next place the POWs worked was at Nielsen Field. The work started on January 29, 1943, and for the first six weeks the POWs marched 8 kilometers from Ft. McKinley to the airfield. They were later moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in Nipa huts that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had been built for them and were taken to the airfield by truck. There, the POWs worked at constructing a northeast to southwest runway and building revetments.
At first tents were provided for protection against the sun and rain, but many were stolen by the Filipinos and the rest deteriorated until they were useless. There was plenty of water for drinking and adequate latrines were provided. The POWs were divided into two groups. One group worked for a hour while the other rested. This was later reduced to two 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was increased to three 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon.
The POWs worked from 8:00 A.M. to noon and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The POWs were divided into two groups. While one group was working for an hour, the other group rested. The work was hard and called for the POWs to remove dirt and rock to the area where the runway was being built. Wheelbarrows were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to work. The POWs received one day off a week.
Small mining cars were brought in, and the POWs filled the cars with dirt and rocks before they were pushed by five men down a track from 200 feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where the material was wanted, they emptied the car.
He apparently became ill while on the detail because medical records at Bilibid Prison show he was admitted to the hospital ward with beriberi. He was discharged from the hospital and sent to Cabanatuan on April 2, 1943.
It would seem that Wilbur was still ill, because medical records at Cabanatuan show that he was admitted to the camp hospital on April 5, 1943. The records do not indicate why he was admitted or when he was discharged. After he was discharged, he apparently was sent to Clark Airfield where another work detail was building runways. Additional records show that he was readmitted to Bilibid on July 6, 1943, suffering from malaria. How long he remained in the hospital and when he was discharged are not known.
Other records show that he was sent to Clark Field to work . where the POWs slept in barracks in bunks with mattresses. Th ey 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. They were housed in the same barracks that many of them had lived in before the war. 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. From this detail , he was returned to Bilibid 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, almost 1775 POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up when he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in the floor of the hold being covered with human waste. 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, the ship sailed 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 on Manila, but the ship was attacked once by American planes returning from a mission against the airfield on the island .
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.
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.
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 5:00 P.M. on October 24, and some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's holds and had fed about half the POWs. 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.
It was 5:50 P.M. when the Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship. The ship shook and came to a stop. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, killing some of the POWs. Those still alive began cheering wildly, but it stopped when they realized they were facing death. 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 stopped when the POWs 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 either the U.S.S. Snook or the U.S.S. Shark .
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."
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." The ship sank slow ly 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 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.
Of the approximately 1775 men who had boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of these men survived to see the end of the war. Pvt. Wilbur C. Callison was not one of them. 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."
Since Pvt. Wilbur C. Callison was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. His parents also had a memorial headstone placed for him at the Warren Township Cemetery in Coleman, Michigan.