Pvt. Alexander Raymond Kopek
Pvt. Alexander R. Kopek was born in Kansas in 1914. He was the son of Joseph Kopek & Pauline Gruzkiewicz-Kopek. He lived at 2822 Perry Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri, with his two sisters and three brothers. Alexander attended Manuel Training School and left school after 7th grade to work as a mechanic.
In 1941, Alexander
was drafted into the U. S. Army. He was
sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he was
assigned to Headquarters Company of the 194th
Tank Battalion. He was trained as a tank
The morning of April 9th, at 6:45, the order crash" was heard over the radios of the battalion. The members of the company destroyed any equipment that had military value to the Japanese. It was on April 9th that Alexander became a Prisoner of War when the Japanese entered the company's bivouac.
Alexander took part in the death march and, at
San Fernando, he and other POWs, were packed
into small wooden box cars that were used to
haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty
men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100
men into each car. At Capas, the POWs
climbed out of the cars and walked the last ten
miles to Camp O'Donnell. Those who had
died in the cars fell to the floors.
The conditions in the camp were so bad, that the as many as 50 men died each day, and there was only one water faucet for the entire camp. The situation was so bad, that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Alexander was one of the healthier POWs, so he was sent there and assigned to Barracks 2 Group 2. It is not known if he went out on any work details while in the camp. But it is known he was in the camp, in October 1944, when his name was posted for transport to Japan. This was done because U. S. Forces were approaching the Philippines, and the Japanese did not want them to be liberated.
When Alexander's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila in early October 1944, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. They had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru, but since one of the POW detachments in his group had not arrived on time, the Japanese switched POW groups and put another group of POWs on Alexander's ship so it could sail.
The POWs were packed into the ship's number two hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks. These bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up while laying down. Those standing also had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans which the POWs could not get near since they were packed into the hold so tightly. The floor of the hold was soon covered with human waste.
The ship sailed on October 10th but took a
southerly route away from Formosa. It
arrived at a cove off Palawan Island where it
dropped anchor. This resulted in the ship
missing an air attack, on Manila, by American
planes. During their time off Palawan, the
POWs managed to hot wire the hold's ventilation
system into the hold's lighting system.
The Japanese had removed the light bulbs, but
they had not turned off the power. For two
days the POWs had fresh air, until the power was
turned off when the Japanese found out what the
POWs had done.
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila
nine days later., where it became part of a
twelve ship convoy bound for
Formosa. 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. This made the ships
targets for submarines. In addition, to
protect the fact that American Military
Intelligence had cracked the Japanese code, the
submarine crews were not informed that POWs were
being transported on the ships.
According to the five POWs who had reached an abandoned lifeboat, the Arisan Maru sank slowly into the water. At some point the ship broke in two where it had been struck by the torpedoes. The exact time of the ship's sinking was not known since it occurred after dark. The cries for help slowly ceased until there was silence.
Pvt. Alexander R. Kopek lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the nearly 1800 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of the men survived the war.
Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Alexander Kopek's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.