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
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 4th 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 reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. 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. By the time a Navy ship was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up. 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 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 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, that was its escort. 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 1st, 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, Anton 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 Jaoaquin on the Malolus Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12th. 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 26th, 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 28th, 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 5th, they were at Lyac Junction and dropped back to Remedios were a new defensive line was formed. The night of January 6/7, the 194th withdrew over a bridge on the Culis Creek covered by the 192nd Tank Battalion, and entered Bataan. The 192nd crossed the bridge before it was destroyed and entered Bataan.
The tank battalions were covering the East Coast Road on January 8th. It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each and HQ Company with the 17th Ordnance Company were able to do long overdue maintenance on the tanks.
The tanks continued to cover withdraws for the rest of January and February. In March, HQ Company was recovering two tanks that had been bogged down in the mud when the Japanese entered the area. Lt. Col. Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point blank range and ran from tank to tank directing the fire.
On April 4th, 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. When it became apparent to Gen. Edward King that the situation was hopeless, he sent staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan on April 8th.
Tony's tank company continued to fight the Japanese until they were ordered to surrender on April 9, 1942. 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 ne 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. This 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. The situation in this camp was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan a month later.
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."
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 7th. 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 the tide of the war turned against the Japanese, they began to send large numbers of POWs to other parts of their empire. Anton's name was posted for transport in early October 1944.
On October 10th, Tony's POW detachment arrived at the Port Area of Manila. The ship his group was scheduled to sail on was the Hokusen Maru. Since the entire detachment of POWs that Tony was in had not arrived, and the ship was ready to sail, the Japanese boarded another detachment of POWs onto the ship. Tony's detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru.
Tony and almost 1800 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 later attacked by American planes while sitting in the cove.
His recalled, "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 together. Five guys died. The stink was unbearable. The hatches were closed and you couldn't see your hand before your eyes there was no light."
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 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 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 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 the U.S.S Snook. 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 aimed its guns at the boat. The POWs played dead and the Japanese destroyer pulled away without firing on 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.
all "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 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.