DiBenedetti_E

 

Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti


    Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti was born in 1920 in France to Frank DiBenedetti & Alexandrine Morello-DiBenedetti.  At some point, his family immigrated to the United States where his brother was born.  The family resided at 843 South Main Street in Salinas.  He graduated from Salinas High School and worked as a bookkeeper at the Salinas National Bank.

    Ed enlisted in the California National Guard at Salinas.  A little over a month later he was inducted into federal service on February 10, 1941 at Salinas Army Air Base.  With his company, now designated C Company, 194th Tank Battalion he traveled to Fort Lewis in Washington state.  Three months later, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky to attend radio school.

    On August 15, 1941, the decision was made, at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, that the 194th would be sent to the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over the Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots , who was flying lower then the other planes, 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 flagged buoys that lined up - in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island - hundreds of miles away - that had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning 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, and a fishing boat was seen heading toward shore.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not stopped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    On September 9, 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, rode a train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  They were ferried to Ft. McDowell, Angel Island by the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, and received physicals and inoculations 
    The battalion 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 and an unknown detroyer 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 Gen. Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed.  On November 15th, they moved into their barracks.
    Being assigned to HQ, he remained behind in Manila, with the company, to unload the tanks.  Because the hold was not very high, the turrets of the tanks had been removed so they would fit into the hold.  This job was not completed until 9:00 A.M. the next day.
    The M-3 tanks that the battalion had were new to them.  The fact they arrived in the Philippines, in late September, allowed the tank crews to learn about their tanks.  What also helped was 17th Ordnance had worked on the tanks while training at Ft. Knox. The tank battalion was still training at Ft. Stotsenburg the first week of December 1941.
    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.  

    The morning of December 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At 12:30 the planes landed and their pilots went to lunch. 

   Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runway did the tankers know the planes were Japanese.

    The tanks of the 194th were ordered  to Mabalacat.  They remained there until December 12th, when A Company was sent north to the Agno River area.  C Company was sent south of Manila to southern Luzon.

    On December 25th, the five tanks of the tank platoon of 2nd Lt. Robert Needham were sent to an area on the east coast of Luzon near Lucban. The Japanese had landed troops in the area, and the American Command wanted to see what the strength of the enemy was in the area.  

    The tanks were ordered by a major to proceed,  without reconnaissance, down a narrow trail.  Since the area was mountainous, the tanks had a hard time maneuvering.  As they went down the trail, the tanks attempted to keep their spacing so that the driver of each tank could each see the tank in front of him.  At one point in the trail, the tanks found that the trail made a sharp turn. impact from the shell.

     Believing they were safe, the members of Ed's crew began to celebrate their good luck.  Suddenly, the tank took a direct hit from another Japanese anti-tank gun.  The explosion knocked the track off the tank.  The tank veered off the road and went over an earthen embankment.  Ed ended up with a rivet in his neck.  The tank came to a stop in a rice paddy.  Ed's crew had no idea that their little reconnaissance mission had taken them straight into the main Japanese staging area.

    The tankers button down their tank and remained in it for hours.  Japanese soldiers tapped on the tank and said, "Are you in there, Joe?"  The crew played dead for remainder of the day and night.  The next morning they exited the tank and with the help of a Filipino, they made their way through Japanese lines.  Ed was left at a Catholic hospital at Manila.  He became a Prisoner of War when Manila was occupied by the Japanese.

    After the fall of Bataan, Ed was reunited with the other members of his tank company at Cabanatuan.  It is not known if Ed went out on any work details while a POW in the camp.  Medical records from the camp show that Ed was admitted into the camp hospital on April 22, 1943.  The records do not indicate why he was admitted or when he was discharged. 

    It is known that Ed went out on a work detail to build runways in what was referred to as the Army Air Group.  According to records kept by the medical staff at Bilibid Prison, Ed was admitted to the hospital ward on August 4, 1944, and donated blood.  The records also indicate that he was discharged on August 6th and returned to the detail.
    In early October 1944, almost 1800 other 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 10th the POWs boarded the Arisan Maru and 1775 prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the Arisan Maru which could hold 400 men.  They were packed in so tightly that they could not move.  Those POWs who had lain down in the wooden bunks along the haul could not sit up because the bunks were so close together.  Eight large cans served as the washroom facilities for the POWs.
    Later in the day on October 11th, the ship set sail 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, but the ship was attacked once by American planes while there.
    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 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 ship.
    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 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.

    Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea.  Of the 1805 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking.  Eight of these men would survive the war.  Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.

    Pvt. Edmund DiBenedetti was awarded the Silver Star post-humously.


 






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