Pvt. Anton Ervin Cichy


    Pvt. Anton E. Cichy was born on February 18, 1914, to John P. Cichy & Emelia Klimek-Cichy in Urbank, Minnesota.  With his three brothers and three sisters, he grew up in both Newton Township, Otter Trail County, Minnesota.  He worked as a laborer in road construction.
    Anton was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1941 and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington.  There, he was assigned to HQ Company, 194th Tank Battalion to fill-out the company's roster.  The company had been with National Guardsmen from the three companies of the battalion.
    In September 1941, Anton's battalion was ordered to San Francisco and arrived on September 4 at 7:30 A.M. at Ft. Mason.  From there, they  were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island.  There, they were inoculated and given physicals on Angel Island by the battalion's medical detachment.  Those men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
    The decision for this move -  which had been made on August 15, 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  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.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water 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 which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued 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 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.
    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. 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.
    On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
    On December 8, 1941, Tony lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  All morning the sky was filled with American planes.  The soldiers had heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  At 12:15 the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  Fifteen minutes later, the soldiers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  The soldiers counted the planes and commented on how pretty they looked.  It was only when bombs began to hit the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
    Tony ran to a nearby trench, but it was already filled with men.  As he ran to hide under a tank, bombs exploded around him.  Bullets hit the ground around him as he was strafed by the pilots who were attempting to kill him.  After the attack, he witnessed the carnage done by the planes.
    The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Joaquin on the Malolus Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12.  It would receive 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank.  The battalion moved again to west and north of Rosario and was operating in north of the Agno River the night of December 22/23.
    On December 26, his tank platoon was given the duty of holding the bank along the Agno River while Filipino and American forces crossed the river.  During this duty he and other tankers wiped out over 500 Japanese troops who had attempted to cross the river.  They also were under constant bombardment by Japanese artillery and mortars.  After the tankers disengaged, they fought their way through the barrio of Carmen.
    On December 28, Tony's platoon was given the duty of holding the Calumpit Bridge so that Filipinos and Americans could once again withdraw from the area.  They were again under heavy shelling.
    On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders, since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
    The night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa.  Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
    The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road.  The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations.  After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
    The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd.  Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire.  The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.  This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
    The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road.  It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance.  It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.  The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance.  Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver:  "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th.  While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M.  One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops.  The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
    Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.  When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire.  To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
    The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
    In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks.  This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day.  At the same time, food rations were cut in half again.  Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
    On April 3, the Japanese lunched an all out offensive at 3:00 P.M., and the tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance.  On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan.  It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day.  In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred.  At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
    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."  
    With his company, he destroyed his tank.  That morning two Japanese officers, who spoke perfect English, arrived at the bivouac and told the Americans to remain there until ordered to move.  Two days later, he made his way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  From this barrio, he started what became known as "the death march."
    In remembering the march he said, "The march was seven days with nothing to eat, very little water to drink."   During the march, Tony witnessed POWs beaten for no reason.  He and the other POWs were denied food and water for no apparent reason.  At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. The dead remained standing until the living disembarked the cars at Capas.  From there, he walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    As a POW, Tony was held at Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Training Camp was pressed into service by the Japanese as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for 12,000 POWs. Men would literally "die" waiting for a drink of water.  As many as fifty POWs died each day from disease.  The strong would steal the food of the weak. 
    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. 
    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.
    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.  The poor diet resulted in the POWs becoming malnourished which made them susceptible to disease which caused many to die.
    When the camp opened, Tony was sent to the camp.  After he arrived he recalled , "One of our guys tried to escape the first day. They caught him and broke every bone in his body, then broke his head open so his brains spilled out.  The they made us walk by and look at him.  It seemed like there was killings everyday." 
    The barracks in the camp were built to hold 50 POWs, but it wasn't unusual for 60 to 120 POWs to be assigned to a barracks.  The POWs slept on bamboo strips without bedding, covers, or mosquito netting.  This resulted in many of them becoming ill.
    On June 18, 1942, he was sent to "zero ward" the camp hospital with malaria.  The hospital was given the name since most of those POWs sent there had little to no chance of ever leaving alive.  It is not known how long her there, but records kept by the medical staff indicate that he was released and returned to duty.  He was readmitted to the hospital on Thursday, January 25, 1943; no illness or date of release was recorded.  He was again admitted on Sunday, March 28, 1943.  Again, no reason for his admittance or date of discharge were given.
    During his time in the camp, Anton recalled, "We cultivated a darn nice garden there.  But the Japs wouldn't let us eat very much of the stuff.  Some of it even rotted in the ground."  Commenting on his weight lost, he said, "I could close my fingers around the bone in my leg."
    He also recalled that two POWs escaped and were recaptured.  "They got away but the Japs caught up with them.  Sixteen Jap guards lined the two men up outside our barracks and shot them.  We watched the whole thing.  The Japs had it planned that way."
    Tony went out on a work detail to build runways at an airfield.  What is known about his time on the detail is that he became ill and was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison.  According to records kept by the staff, he was admitted on July 29, 1944, suffering from gastritis, and discharged on August 7.  The records also show he was returned to what was called "The Army Air Group."
    One of Anton's happier memories was of the first time American planes appeared over the prison on September 21, 1944. "We practically pushed the walls barracks watching the fliers coming in.  We were cheering - not too loud, just kind of snickering.  The Japs were jittery as hell and we didn't want to get 'em jittery with their guns."
    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 was waiting for their ship to be ready to sail, so the Japanese flipped the POW detachments so that the Hokusen Maru could sail.    
    Nearly 1775 POWs were put on the Arisan Maru and 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 which were so close together that a man could not lift himself up while lying down.  Those standing also 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.  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 coursr, 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 on Manila, but the ship was later attacked by American planes returning from a bombing mission on the airfield on Palawan. 
     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 turned off 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.  Tony found himself in a 22 foot by 22 foot space which was three feet high.  "It was so crowded we couldn't stretch out. "  
    The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20.  There, it joined a 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.  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 and sunk.
    Tony recalled, " The Japs told us we would 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 I didn't think of anything about it."
    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on October 24, 1944, about 5:00 PM, some 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 the holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted. The POWS began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.  The POWs in the hold could hear the torpedoes in the water.
    The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship.  As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed in front 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 either the U.S.S. Snook or the U.S.S.Shark.  Cichy recalled, "When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!'  We wanted to get it over with."   Tony stated that the second torpedo almost split the ship's hull in two. 
    One of the Japanese guards took a machine gun and began firing at the POWs who were on deck.  To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them down.
    As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds.  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 Japs closed all the hatches and then left the ship in the 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."
    At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship.  The POWs, once on deck, raided the ship's food lockers to eat their last meal.  "I went to the kitchen. I filled up on anything I could find - sugar. rice, fish. Then I put on a life preserver and slipped over the side."   
    "The Japs had already evacuated ship.  They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own."  A group of 35 POWs swam to the nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed them away with poles and hit them 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.  At some point, the ship split in two.  The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark .
    Tony went into the water and made his way toward a Japanese destroyer and witnessed how the POWs were being treated.  "When I was about half way there, I stopped because I saw what was happening to the other prisoners near the destroyer.  The Japs were beating them down when they tried to get up on the boat."
    Wearing his life jacket, Tony swam around for four and one-half hours when the moon light lit a life boat with one man in it coming toward him.  "I thought it was a Jap so I was afraid to call out, after what happened to the guys that tried to get on the destroyer,  But when the boat passed, I thought I might as well take a chance."  Tony swam toward the boat, but it took him, what seemed to be an hour to reach it. 
    When he did, the man tried to help him into the boat, but because Tony so weak he could not do it.  Tony found some debris to lie on.  After getting some strength back, the man was able to get him into the boat.  Once on the boat, Tony passed out.  When he awoke, besides the original man, there was another man in the boat.  Two additional men would be rescued.
    At one point, a destroyer approached the lifeboat and stopped.  A Japanese officer called two Japanese sailors over with machine guns.  They aimed their guns at the boat but nothing happened.  Suddenly, the Japanese destroyer pulled away without firing a shot at the men in the lifeboat.   
    The Japanese had taken anything of use from the boat when they abandoned it.  According to Tony, they appear to have luck on their side, "It was getting light and we heard something bumping against the side of the boat.  We looked over and saw that it was a box.  It was heavy, but we dragged it in."  Inside of it was a sail and mast that was made to be used on the boat.  They also fished from the sea two kegs of water.  "It seemed like everything was just perfect for us.  There must of been someone looking out for us.  The China Sea is pretty big; why would all of this be happening if somebody wasn't looking out for us?"
    The POWs, after five hours of hard work, were able to rig the boat's sail.  One of the five survivors has some knowledge of navigation.  Knowing that China was to the west, they steered the boat in that direction.  "He made it by following the stars.  We learned afterwards we traveled 250 miles in that boat.  It took us about two and a half days."   They also were lucky in the fact that the wind was blowing to the west for three days.  It allowed them to get within 25 miles of the Chinese coast. 
    The morning of their third day in the boat, the POWs came across two Chinese fishing boats.  The Chinese rescued the POWs from the lifeboat.  "They took care of us, fed us and gave us clothing.  They cooked three gallons of rice and two big red snapper fish, and we cleaned that all up.  Our bellies pretty near busted.  We were still hungry, but we  couldn't eat no more.  The Chinese couldn't talk English but by signs they understood who we were and where we wanted to go."
    The Chinese took the men to an area of Free China. "The next morning, we took off walking.  I think we walked 20 miles until my feet got blistered and I couldn't walk anymore."   The former POWs were treated like royalty by the Chinese in every village they entered.  They were given Chinese clothing to wear.  They were taken to other villages and ate banquet after banquet on their 800 mile journey to American lines.  During the journey, they walked, rode bikes, sedan car, and finally by truck to a Chinese Army post. 
    From this post they made their final journey.  One day they saw an American flag flying from a flagpole.  They were taken to an American airfield and flown over the Himalayan Hump to India.  From there, they were flown to North Africa.  Four days later, they found themselves in New York City. From New York, they were taken to Washington D.C. where they spent nine days being questioned.  Tony recalled, "I was really sick and should have been in a hospital.  But they wanted to know who was dead, who was alive, what the Japs were doing, how they treated us."
    Tony Cichy returned to New York Mills, Minnesota.  After he got home, he quickly tired of telling his story.  He was discharged, from the army, on July 16, 1945.  Then the letters started to arrive.  "The letters came from all over the United States.  Because I was a survivor, they wanted to know if their husband was on the ship, if I knew him, and what happened to him.  I did know a lot of them.  They all died." 
    Tony married Arlence Julia Lillis and became the father of two sons and a daughter.  He lived in Marion Lake near Dent, Minnesota, and worked as a well driller.
    Years later, while at a military reunion, a man came up to Tony and said he had been a crew member of the U.S.S. Snook.  It was this submarine that may have sunk the Arisan Maru.  Tony looked at the man, took his hand, and said, "Thank you. You saved my life."
    On October 27, 2009, Anton E. Cichy died in Wadena, Minnesota.  He was buried at Richville Cemetery in Richville, Minnesota.


 


Anton Cichy Interview



Next


Bataan Project

Return to HQ Company