1st Lt. Charles Arthur Fleming
1st Lt. Charles A. Fleming was born to Clyde & Susie Fleming in 1911 in Missouri. It is known he had one brother. The boys were raised at 2803 Sacramento Street, Saint Joseph, Missouri. He worked as a gas station owner. At some point, he joined the Missouri National Guard. When his tank company was federalized on February 11, 1941, and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for training, he held the rank of staff sergeant. The company was designated B Company, 194th Tank Battalion.
Helen A. Hansen on April 18, 1941, while home on
leave from Ft. Lewis. At
some point, Charles attended Officers Candidates
School and was commissioned a second lieutenant
and made a tank platoon commander. He was
transferred from B Company to A Company. which had been a
Minnesota National Guard tank company.
He later served as the battalion's tank
The battalion was
ordered to San Francisco, California, and
arrived at 7:30 A.M. on September 4th and
ferried, on the U.S.A.T. Generl Frank M.
Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they
received physicals and inoculations. Those
who had health issues were held back and
replaced by other soldiers. They
boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge
and sailed to the Philippine Islands at 9:00
P.M. on September 8th. The soldiers
were quartered in the hold of the ship while
the officers slept in wardrooms shared by four
officers. At 7:00 A.M. on
Saturday, September 13th, the ship
arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers
were allowed ashore, but had to be on board the
ship before the the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
The soldiers were greeted by Colonel Edward King who apologized to them that they had to live in tents. He made sure they were settled into their bivouac before he left.
The soldiers spent the next weeks cleaning their weapons of cosmoline. The guns were sealed in it to prevent them from rusting on the trip to the Philippines. At one point, the battalion went on a maneuver to Lingayen Gulf.
The first week of December, 1941, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the airfield from paratroopers. Two crew men remained with the tanks at all times. On December 8th, Charles, and the rest of the battalion, lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. The bombing took place just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. At 12:45 that afternoon, planes approached the field from the north. At first the tankers thought the planes were American. When bombs exploded on the runways, the tankers knew they were Japanese.
Charles took part in the Battle of Luzon from December 8, 1941 until January 6, 1942. During that time his battalion was ordered to an area south of Manila to help slow advancing Japanese troops. On January 7, the tankers entered Bataan before the last bridge was blown up. The Battle of Bataan had now begun.
communications officer, Charles spent much of
his time in a truck which had been equipped with
scavenged radio equipment. The
equipment was made operational by Charles and
Cpl. Francis Aram.
The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp.
There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. If a prisoner wanted a drink of water, he had to stand in line for hours. Often, when a man reached the spigot, the Japanese guard would turn off the water for no reason.
Charles was next held at Cabanatuan and assigned to Barracks #29 which was a barracks assigned to officers. This camp had been opened because the death rate at Camp O'Donnell was so high, that the Japanese knew they had to do something to lower it. The death rate among the POWs dropped when they were given their first Red Cross Packages.
In October 1942, Charles and other prisoners were loaded onto a ship and sent to Davao, Mindanao. They were taken to a camp about 36 miles from Davao City. There, the POWs were unloaded and used as labor. Some of the POWs were used as labor at construction sites while others farmed in the camp farm. Many of the POWs were ill and needed vitamins. The fruit that was being grown on the farm could have helped the prisoners, but it was allowed to rot on the ground by the Japanese instead of being given to the prisoners.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of the POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Charles spent almost
two years at Davao.
As the American forces got closer to
the Philippine Islands, the Japanese
began to send as many POWs to Japan or
other occupied countries as
possible. On June 6, 1944, the
Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang,
Mindano, by truck. Once there,
the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu
Maru and held in the ship's
for six days before it sailed.
The ship sailed on the 12th and
dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano,
for two days before sailing for Cebu
City arriving on June 17th. The
POWs were taken off the ship and held
in a warehouse. The POWs were
returned to the dock and boarded an
unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on
The POWs were later taken to Bilibid Prison. Charles remained there for several months. Since the prison was surrounded by high walls which meant the POWs were starved for news of the outside world.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, Charles and the other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
was at this time that the POWs were allowed to
sit down. Many
of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They
were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku
Maru for transport to Japan. The high
ranking officers were the first put into the
ship's afthold. Being the first on meant
that they would suffer many deaths. Around
the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of
bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad
that men soon began to pass out. One
survivor said, "The
fist fights began when men began to pass
out. We knew that only the front men
in bay would be able to get enough
air." The POWs who were
closer to the hold's hatch used anything they
could find to fan air toward those further away
It is not known if
Charles died during the attack on the Oryoku Maru by the
American fighter planes, if he died during the
explosions that took place on the ship, or if he
died while swimming to shore. What
is known is that he was reported as dying on
December 15, 1944, during the sinking of the Oryoku Maru. His family did
not learn of his death until July 25,