| Pvt. Thomas E. Hurtt was born in Kemper County, Mississippi, on October 18, 1912, to William J. & Alice Hurtt. His mother died when he was a child and his father remarried. He had one brother, two half-brothers, and five half-sisters. He joined the army, in September 1939, and did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. On May 7, 1941, he reenlisted and was assigned to A Company, 753rd Tank Battalion. |
In September 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Maneuvers were going on in Louisiana, but the battalion did not take part in them. It was at Camp Polk that Thomas become a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The battalion had received orders for overseas duty, and he replaced a National Guardsman who had been released from federal service. He either volunteered, or had his name drawn, to join the battalion and was assigned to A Company.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, 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 buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned 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 by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion's medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness. Once they recovered, they spent their time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two day layover, so t he 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. 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 15th, 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.
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.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times. Their meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1942, the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. They returned to their tanks around the airfield. Many of them believed that this was nothing more than the start of the maneuvers they had expected to take part in after arriving in the Philippines.
The planes of the Army Air Corps took off about 8:00 in the morning and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch in the mess hall. At 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers were at food trucks receiving lunch when they spotted planes approaching the airfield from the north. Many of the men counted 54 planes in a "V" formation and commented that they thought they were American. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The men ran to their tanks or took cover wherever they could. They could do little more than watch since their weapons were not meant to fight planes. They also had been ordered not to fire at the planes.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The tankers 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 the soldiers had slept their last night in a bed. For protection, they slept under their tanks or in them.
Four days after the attack, on December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and protect them against sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they 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 were asked to hold the position for six hours, but they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. That night, o n a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31 and January 1. Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep. It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.
As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers. The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks. To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smoke screen. Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
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 soldiers. January that the food rations were cut in half. Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers.
A Company, on January 5, while attached to the 194th Tank Battalion, withdrew from the line. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield received orders to launch a counter-attack against the Japanese on a tail picked by Provisional Tank Group command. Bloomfield, while attempting to attack, radioed the tank group that the trail did not exist.
It was evening and the tankers believed they were in a relatively safe place near Lubao along a dried up creek bed. Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gun shot at about 1:50 A.M. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had lunched a major offensive across an open field wearing white shirts which made them easy targets. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 3:00 A.M., when the Japanese broke off the attack. Within days of this action, the company returned to the command of the 192nd.
The company was next sent in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. At Guagua, A Company with the 11th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the Filipinos mistook the tanks as Japanese and accurately used mortars on them knocking out three tanks. A Company rejoined the 194th east of Guagua.
As American and Filipino forces entered Bataan, the company waited for orders to cross the bridge over the Culis Creek the night of January 7th. Receiving none, many of the tankers went to sleep. Col. Ted Wickord, Commanding Officer of the 192nd, crossed the bridge and went looking for the company when they did not cross. He did this because the engineers wanted to blow up the bridge. Wickord found the company, woke them, and ordered them across the bridge. A Company was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the last bridge was blown by the engineers.
The next day the tanks received maintenance. It was the first rest that the two tank battalions had since December 24.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. The morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
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 relieved.
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 day.
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 good meal.
During the Battle of the Points, on March 2 and 3, the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back toward the sea and wiped out the pockets.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said , "There are times when men must die." The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
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.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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 as accomplished."
On April 9, 1942, Thomas became a Prisoner of War and made his way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. There, he started the march out of Bataan. The POWs made their way north and, at one point, ran past Japanese artillery that was firing at Corregidor. The American guns on Corregidor returned fire and shells landed around the POWs.
They made their way north with little food and no water. At San Fernando, they were herded into a bullpen and sat in the feces of the POWs who had been in the bullpen before them. The Japanese ordered them to form detachments of 100 men. They marched to the train station and were put into small wooden boxcars, used to haul sugarcane, known as "forty or eights." Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. In the cars, men suffocated and could not fall to the floor since there was no room for them to fall. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors. The POWs made their way 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. Tsuneyoshi also told the doctor that the only thing he wanted to know about the Americans was their names and serial numbers when they died.
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 Japanese lieutenant.
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 burial detail would carry the dead to the cemetery and put the corpse in the grave. Since the water table was high, so that it could be covered with dirt, one POW held the body down with a pole while dirt was thrown on the corpse. The next day when the burial detail returned to the cemetery, the dead often were dug up by wild dogs or sitting up in their graves.
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. The trip was not as bad since the POWs had more room in the boxcars. 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.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O'Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. The camp was later closed and the POWs were sent to Camp 1. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O'Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. Camps 1 and 3 were later consolidated into one camp.
The barracks were built for 50 men, but most had 60 to 120 men in them. Each man had a are two feet wide by six feet long to sleep in. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, bedding, and mosquito netting. Disease soon spread quickly.
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. In September 1942, three officers were caught attempting to escape. After being beaten for day, they were shot. In October, seven POWs were made to dig their own graves and shot. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
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. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, 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 1 hospital was made up of 30 wards. Zero ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of "Zero Ward." The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Inside the buildings were two rolls of wooden platforms along the walls. The sicker POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into them. This allowed the POWs to relieve themselves without having to get off the platform. In November 1942, the death rate among the POWs was 9 men each day. When Red Cross packages were given out for Christmas, and other changes were made, the death rate dropped.
During his time as a POW, he was sent to Batangas, Batangas, to build runways at an airfield in January 1943. The POWs on the detail rotated between working on a farm one day and on the airfield the next day. Most of the POWs on the detail returned to Cabanatuan in September 1944. According to medical records kept at Cabanatuan, he was sent to Building 8 on September 4, 1944. When he was discharged is not known.
October 2, 1944, 1775 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 10, the POWs boarded the Arisan Maru and 1775 prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the ship which could hold 400 men. They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up when he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans. Anton Cichy said , "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." Calvin Graef said about the conditions in the hold, "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."
The ship sailed, but took a southerly route away from Taiwan and dropped anchor in a cove off Palawan Island. During the first 48 hours off Palawan, five POWs died. The POWs realized that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the lighting system, but that they had not turned off the power. They figured out a way to hook the ventilation system into the lights and had fresh air for two days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.
The POWs began developing heat blisters, and the Japanese conceded that more POWs would die unless they did something. The Japanese transferred POWs from the first hold to its second hold. This hold was partially filled with coal. During the transfer, one POW attempted to escape and was shot.
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."
On October 20, the Arisan Maru returned to Manila, where, it joined a twelve ship convoy bound for Taiwan. The convoy sailed on October 21 after all the ships had been loaded. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. This made the ships targets for submarines. In addition, U.S. Military Intelligence, was reading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews which ships were carrying POWs.
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 wee 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."
Cichy said , "The Japs told us that they'd 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 didn't think anything about it." It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24, ten POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's holds and had fed about half the POWs. Each day, each POW received twohalf mess kits of rice and three ounces of water. 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.
At about 4:50 P.M., about half the POWs had been fed. As the POWs, on deck, 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 over with." 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 U.S.S. Shark.
The guards took their rifles and used them as clubs to drive the POWs on deck into the holds. Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over the holds, but they did not tie the hatch covers down. Cichy recalled , "The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in 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. One of them escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S. Overback, Baltimore." Cichy also stated , "The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own."
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." Overbeck 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 day before.
"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' disappeared." The ship slowly 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. 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."
Oliver recalled , "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 them."
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 describe it." The next morning there were just waves. Oliver 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. Pvt. Thomas E. Hurtt was not one of them.
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."
Pvt. Thomas E. Hurtt 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.