1st Lt. Willie S. Heard Jr. was born on September 8, 1913, to Willie S.
Heard Sr. & Maud Howell-Heard in Quachita, Louisiana. With his three brothers, one of whom was his
twin, he grew up at 110 Filhiol Avenue and attended school in West Monroe, Louisiana. He was a member of
the ROTC program and graduated from Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge in 1933, with this twin brother,
Howell. He was also commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves. After college, he attended
law school, passed the bar exam, and worked as a lawyer before being called up to federal service.
Willie joined the 192nd Tank Battalion after maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of
1941. It is not known if he was assigned to the battalion from the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been
sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to provide tanks, and men as replacements, to the battalion. It is also
possible that he joined the battalion on Angel Island. Upon joining the battalion, he was assigned to B
Company as the company's executive officer.
Traveling west over four different train routes, the 192nd arrived in San Francisco,
California, where they were ferried to Fort McDowell on Angel Island. They received their inoculations
for duty in the Philippine Islands from the battalion's medical detachment. Men found to have minor
medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many
tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine
guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd
and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away
from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the
U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they
awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had
crossed the International Dateline. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the
horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the
direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was
escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the
direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas,
coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island
at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent
into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at
Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to
unload the tanks.
When they arrived at the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who made
sure that everything was in order in their bivouac. He made sure they had their Thanksgiving dinner,
which turned out to be a watery stew served to them in their mess kits, before he had his dinner. From
this time on, the tankers would spend a little over two weeks preparing their equipment for use on maneuvers.
On December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against
paratroopers. Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times and received their meals from food
trucks. The morning of December 8, 1941, the tank crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter
of Clark Field. Earlier that morning they had received word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the
sky. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the
tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the
runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
During the attack, the tankers could do little more than watch since they most of their
weapons were of no use against aircraft except the .50 caliber machine guns on their tanks. Some of the
half-tracks had .50 caliber machine guns which fired at the planes. For some strange reason, the most of
the planes left the tanks alone. Those that did go after the tanks had their bombs land between the
tanks. The battalion was credited with shooting down several planes.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The
soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and
anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place
the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their
tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. The battalion lived through
two more heavy bombings on December 10 and 13.
On December 20, the 192nd was ordered north toward Lingayen Gulf where Japanese troops
were landing. When the tank companies arrived at Rosario, there was not enough gasoline for the
companies to proceed north. This situation was caused by orders, that did not come from the Tank Group
Headquarters which did not allow the tanks to refuel at Gerona. A platoon of the company's tanks
would fight the first tank battle of WWII, involving American tanks, on December 22 at Lingayen Gulf. The
rest of the tank platoons fell back toward Damoritis where they were suppose to provide cover for withdrawing
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of
Urdaneta, but bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers
made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance
early in the evening but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the
Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the
Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December
27th, while covering the withdrawal of the Philippine Army. On December 28 withdrew to the
Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line. The night of December 28 and 29 they dropped back to the south bank of
the Banban River.
The battalion, on December 29, withdrew down Route 5 and on December
31/January 1, covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army from the Pampanga River. While
doing this the tanks covered both sides of the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern
Luzon forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese
force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur's chief of staff
gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen.
Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces
defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. 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. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half.
It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the
Both the 192nd and the 194th fell back to Lyic Junction on January 6. The night of
January 6/7, the 192nd covered the withdrawal of the 194th over the Culis Creek. After this was done, the
192nd crossed the bridge becoming the last unit to enter Bataan. The bridge over the creek was blown after
they crossed it. Both battalions dropped back and bivouacked just south of the Pilar-Bagao Road, where they
had their first break in a month.
It also at this time that the tanks received maintenance work from 17th Ordnance.
Their daily rations were also cut in half, and the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each.
This was done so D Company, which abandoned their tanks after a bridge was destroyed, would have tanks.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that
were not designed for jungle warfare.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the
beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from
January 23 to February 17 - to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive
line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. The
tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not
enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company
was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have
three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the
Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of
three usually exploded.
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track
over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and
grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of
gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the
vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the
Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The
tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets
hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance
during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket
one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved
to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug "spider holes"
among the roots the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But
before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the
tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there.
During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had
been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the
crew. The tank was put back into use.
At the same time, the tanks were also used to clear out the Japanese in what was
called "The Battle of the Points." The Japanese had attempted to land troops behind the
main defensive line and ended up with troops trapped on two different points on the peninsula.
The Japanese Marines were driven to the cliffs and hid in the caves below the
cliff lines. They used the caves for protection and would climb down the cliffs to enter them or
leave them. The tankers fired into the caves repeatedly until the Japanese were dead or came out of
It is known that Willie was wounded at some point, but the exact date is not
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to
eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also
began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers'
rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on
them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the
picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and
aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of
the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive
line open to the Japanese.
The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on
April 7. The tanks were pulled out of their position along the west side of the line and ordered to
reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the
eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating
Filipino and American forces.
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."
One night, while on beach duty, the Japanese attempted to land troops on the beach
guarded by B Company. The company and the Japanese
got into a tremendous fire fight. When morning came, not one Japanese
soldier had been landed on the beach.
The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting
The company also took part in the Battle of the Points on the west
coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan
points from January 23 to 29, the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from 22 January to February 8, and the
Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The defenders successfully eliminated the
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.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 4. On April 7, the 57th
Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators
prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks
successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and
while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops
avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a
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
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
On April 9, 1942, the order crash was given and the tankers circled their tanks.
Each tank fired one round into the engine of the tank in front of it. The tankers then opened the
gasoline cocks, allowed the compartments to fill with gas before dropping hand grenades into the tanks.
Willie and the other members of his platoon made their way to Mariveles at the southern
tip of Bataan. It was from this barrio that they started what became known as the "death
During the march the Prisoners of War received little water and no food for days.
They made their way north to San Fernando, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to
haul sugarcane. Each car could hold eight horses of forty men, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each
boxcar and closed the doors. When the train arrived at Capas, the men who had died fell to the ground as
the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Willie walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into
use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra
clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was
found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days,
gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two
to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and
the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This
situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing
when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the
camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon
overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp
including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American
doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies,
he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the
Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical
supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six
medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the
Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to
the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried
in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground
under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were
placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave
a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs
needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The
death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to
do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to
Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was
switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a
schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan
which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the
camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being
executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals
on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or
corn. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the
evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120
men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was
many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it
wasn't uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently
kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed
to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. While working in the
fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the
mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs 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.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was
known as "Zero Ward," which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were
counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward
had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two
foot wide by six foot long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms
had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
Willie was sent to this camp and remained there until he was selected to go out on a work
detail to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs boarded onto the Interisland Steamer, on July 1, 1942, at Manila and
were taken to Davao and arrived there on July 6. The camp was about 36 miles from Davao City.
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 there
were eighteen bays and twelve POWs shared a bay to sleep. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages
were later put in a bay for the POWs to sleep in at night. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently,
and the junior officers refused to take orders from the senior hours. Soon, this trickled down to the
enlisted men who began speaking anyway they wanted to the officers. The situation improved because the
majority of POWs realized that the only way they would survive was to be disciplined.
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
During his time at Davao, Willie built runways and worked on a farm. When it became
apparent to the Japanese that American forces were approaching the Philippines, they began to transfer the POWs
back to Manila.
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 front holds
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 17. 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 June
Willie was returned to Cabanatuan until he was selected to shipment of Japan. Only
those POWs considered too ill to be sent to Japan would remain in the Philippines.
Willie and other prisoners boarded trucks and taken to the Port Area of Manila. His
group was scheduled to sail on the
Hokusen Maru, but since all the POWs had not arrived at the pier and the ship was ready to sail, the
POWs from another detachment, which had completely arrived, were boarded in the ship so it could sail.
On October 10, 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 latrines for the POWs. 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 course, 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."
Later in the day on October 11, 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.
Of this time, Graef said,
"As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was
maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under
these conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty five
gallon tins of fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked the cloth
dry. Men licked their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20, where it joined a twelve ship
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 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.
Graef described the deaths of the POWs hold.
"There were so many (that died) out 1800. The conditions in the hold.....men were just dying in
a continuous stream. Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died.
You were being starved, men were dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like you
were choking to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard."
, "The Japs told us that they'd be in Formosa the next day to pick up cargo. They had to
make roon on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one,
but I didn't think anything about it."
It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24, and ten of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in
the ship's holds and had fed about half the POWs. The waves were high since the ship had been through
a storm in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded warning of
submarines. The POWs in the holds chanted for the submarine to sink the ship.
The waves were high since a storm had just passed. At about 4:50 P.M., about
half the POWs had been fed. As the POWs watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a
torpedo passed in front of it. 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. At
first the POWs cheered wildly until they realized they were facing death. Cichy recalled,
"When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!' We wanted to get it
Lt. Robert S. Overbeck recalled
, "When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and
weak and sick." He also said, "The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the
vessel but it didn't break in two."
Overbeck also commented on the reaction of the POWs in the holds.
"For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed
fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips--300 of them on deck--were scurrying about, scared as
hell. The boilers exploded. I don't think any of us got hurt in the torpedoing or the
explosion. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The Japs took the two
lifeboats aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. That was about 5:00 P.M."
It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was either the
U.S.S. Snook or
The guards began to beat the POWs on deck with their guns to chase them back into the
holds. Once they had, they put the hatch covers on the hatches, but because they had been ordered to
abandon ship, never tied them down. Cichy said,
"The Japs closed the hatched and left the ship in lifeboats. They must of 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 the guys down below.
One of them escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S.
"The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving
The POWs made their way onto the deck. 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."
Overbeck also stated,
"We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so
thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the destroyers,
had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down the hold the
"But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no
resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not tell
who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been carrying Jap
troops. The men were brave and none complained.
"Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry 'so long'
The ship slowly sank lower in 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. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was
sinking. Some POWs attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, rafts, and other
flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them away with poles.
Glenn Oliver said
, "They weren't picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were swimming for the destroyer,
but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water."
, "I could see people still on the ship when it went down. I could see people against the
skyline, just standing there." In the water, he watched as the ship went under. "I kept
getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I didn't ask
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. Oliver, who was not in the boat,
stated he heard men using what he called "GI whistles" to contact each other.
"They were blowing these GI whistles in the night. This weird moaning sound. I can't
The next morning there were just waves. Olvier and three other POWs were picked up by a Japanese
destroyer and taken to Formosa. They later were sent by ship to Japan. The men in the boat picked up
two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom.
1st Lt. Willie S. Heard was not one of them.
It is not known if he was lost at sea, or if he was one of the POWs who died in the
ship's holds before it was sunk, but since his remains are non-recoverable, the name of 1st Lt. Willie S.
Heard Jr.'s appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.
His parents also had a headstone placed in Hasley Cemetery in West Monroe, Louisiana, in his memory.
It should be mentioned that 1st Lt. Willie S. Heard's brother, Lt.
(jg) Travis H. Heard, a Naval pilot, was reported Missing in Action on July 4, 1943, near Guadalcanal. He
was later declared dead.
In 1945, his family received this message
"The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11,
1944, with 1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the
south China Sea over 200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners
escaped in a small boat and reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the
Japanese by whom all others aboard are reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened
to the other individual prisoners and known circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all
other prisoners listed by the Japanese as aboard the vessel perished."