Norman W. Hall
Norman was assigned to A Company of the 19th Ordnance Battalion. During his time at Ft. Knox, he learned how to do maintenance on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion. It was at this time that he qualified as a tank mechanic. His company was deactivated and reactivated as the 17th Ordnance Company.
In the late summer of 1941, 17th Ordnance was sent to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. There, they were inoculated and given physicals. They were boarded on a transport and sent to the Philippine Islands with the 194th Tank Battalion.
In late November 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines. They joined the 194th Tank Battalion and 17th Ordnance to form the Provisional Tank Group. For the next seventeen days, the tank group prepared for maneuvers.
The morning of December 8, 1941, just ten hours after Pearl Harbor, the tankers learned of the Japanese attack on the naval base. The tank group was ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. That morning, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon, the airfield was bombed and strafed by Japanese planes.
For the next four months, Norman's's job was to make sure that gasoline and ammunition reached the tanks. He, with the other members of his company, worked to keep the tanks running. The entire time the Americans and Filipinos withdrew first into Bataan and then down the peninsula.
On April 9, 1942, Norman became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. With the other members of his company, he made his way to Mariveles. It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that he started what has become known as the Bataan Death March.
On the march, Norman went without food and water. Arriving at San Fernando, he and the other prisoners were crammed into small wooden boxcars. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. 100 men packed into each car. They were packed in so tightly that those men who died remained standing. At Capas, the POWs disembarked the boxcars. As they did, the bodies of the dead fell out of the cars. From Capas, Norman walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
The living conditions at Camp O'Donnell were poor. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in lines for days. It is not known if Norman remained in the camp or went out on a work detail.
Norman was sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan and assigned to Barracks #7. The living conditions for the POWs were better. From there sometime between October 1942 and January, 1942, he was assigned to a work detail at the Bachrach Garage in Manila. The POWs on this detail repaired mechanical equipment for the Japanese.
It appears that at some point Norman became ill and was returned to Cabanatuan. On September 23, 1943, he was admitted into the camp hospital with malaria and diarrhea. It is not known when he was discharged since no date is given. Norman's name appeared on a list of POWs being transported to Japan in early October. Trucks came to the camp and the POWs were driven to Manila. When Norman's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila on October 10, 1944, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. They had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusan Maru, but since one of the POW groups had not arrived on time to be boarded, and the ship was ready to sail, the Japanese flipped POW companies and boarded the second company of POWs on the Hokusen Maru.
The POWs were crammed into the first hold of the ship. They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Those who used the wooden bunks along the hull found that once they laid down, the bunks were so close together that they could not sit up in them. Five men died in the first twenty-four hours.
On October 10, 1944, the ship sailed but instead of heading toward Formosa it headed south to Palawan Island. There, the ship dropped anchor in a cove. This was done to avoid American planes. While it was there, the Port of Manila were bombed by American planes.
It was during this time that the POWs figured out how to turn the hold's ventilation fans by wiring them into the ship's lighting system. Although the Japanese had removed the lights, they had not turned off the power. For two days conditions in the hold improved because the POWs had fresh air. When the Japanese discovered what the POWs had done, they cut the power to the hold.
The Japanese realized that they needed to do something or the ship would become a death ship. In an attempt to improve the conditions in the hold, the Japanese moved 800 POWs to one of the other holds. The POWs were put in this hold on top of the coal that was already in it.
Returning to Manila on October 21st, the Arisan Maru waited in the harbor while the Japanese formed a convoy. During this time, the prisoners remained in the holds of the ship. On October 23rd, the Arisan Maru joined a convoy of twelve ships bound for Formosa. The ship proceeded toward Formosa and was in the Bashi Channel the evening of Tuesday, October 24, 1944.
It was almost dinner and twenty POWs were on deck cooking. According to the survivors, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. The Japanese ran to the stern, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship. Two more torpedoes hit the ship amidships. The ship jerked and came to a stop.
The POWs on deck were shot at to get them to go back into the holds. Once this was done, the Japanese covered the holds but did not tie the hatch covers down. The Japanese abandoned ship, but cut the rope ladders to the ship's holds before they left. A few POWs managed to get out of the second hold and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds to the other POWs.
Those POWs who could swim attempted to escape the sinking ship by clinging to rafts, hold hatches, flotation belts, flotsam and jetsam. Many of those who could not swim remained on the ship and gorged themselves with food from the ship's food locker.
Some POWs attempted to swim to nearby Japanese destroyers. They were shot at, clubbed, or pushed away with poles or clubbed. The destroyers pulled away leaving the Americans to fend for themselves. Three POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to get into it. They discovered that it had no oars so they could not maneuver it to rescue other POWs. In spite of this, they managed to rescue two POWs.
After several hours, the ship split in two. A few hours later it sunk. According to the survivors, the cries for help grew fainter and fainter. Then, there was silence. Of the 1803 POWs who had boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived its sinking. The five who had found the boat made their way to China. There, the Chinese helped them reach the Allies. The other four POWs were recaptured by the Japanese. One of these four men would die in a POW camp.
Pvt. Norman W. Hall died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru, in the South China Sea, on October 24, 1944. Since he was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.
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