T/4 Steve Lemke was born in
1912 and was the son of Adolph & Mary
Lemke. His parents were immigrants from
Poland. He was raised in Sturgeon Lake,
Minnesota, and worked on the family's farm. On
April 14, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army
and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. There, he
was assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion.
On August 15, 1941, the 194th
received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty
in the Philippines because of an event that happened
during the summer. A squadron of American
fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of
the pilots noticed something odd. He took his
plane down and identified a buoy in the water.
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, with a large radio
transmitter, hundred of miles away. The
squadron continued its flight plane and flew south
to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.
By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do
anything that day.
The next morning another squadron
was sent to the area and found that the buoys had
been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen
making its way toward shore. Since
communication between and Air Corps and Navy was
poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at
that time the decision was made to build up the
American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the battalion, minus B Company,
traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco,
California. From there, on the U.S.A.T.
General Frank M. Coxe, they were ferried to
Fort McDowell on Angel Island and given physicals
and inoculated. Men who had medical
conditions were held back and replaced.
The tankers boarded the S.S.
President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th
at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the
Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit
in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial
numbers spray painted on them and were removed
from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu,
Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M.,
and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to
see the island but had to be back on board before
the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship
took a southerly route away from the main shipping
lanes. It was at this time that it was
joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy
cruiser, that was its escort. During this
part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was
seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in
the direction of the smoke. Each time it was
found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to
a friendly country.
The Coolidge entered Manila Bay
at 7:00 A.M. and reached Manila several hours
later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00
P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark
Field. The maintenance section of the
battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at
the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and
reattach the turrets.
On December 1st, the tankers
were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to
guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two
members of each tank and half-track crew remained
with their vehicles at all times and received
their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8,
1941, at 8:30, the planes of the the Army Air
Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon
the planes landed to be refueled, line up in a
straight line, and the pilots went to lunch in the
mess hall. At 12:45 in the afternoon, just
ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Danny
lived through the Japanese attack on Clark
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. They
lived through two more attacks on December
10th. The night of the 12th/13th, the
battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San
Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge.
Attempting to move the battalion at night was a
nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new
bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th.
The battalion received 15 Bren
Gun carriers on the 15th, and gave some to the
26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. They used
the carriers to test the ground to see if it was
solid enough to support tanks. They next
were ordered to support the 71st Division in the
area of Rosario on the 22nd, but the division's
commanding officer ordered them out of the area,
since he believed they would interfere with
The night of the 22nd/23rd, the
battalions were operating north of the Agno River
when it they found that the bridge they were
suppose to use had been bombed. On December
23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of
Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to
use to cross the Agno River was destroyed.
The tankers made an end run to get south of river
and ran into Japanese resistance early in the
evening, but they successfully crossed at the
river in the Bayambang Province.
Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a
defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno
River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno
River from Carmen to Tayung, and the 194th holding
the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.
The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the
morning on December 27th when they withdrew,
following the Philippine Army, to the
Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line and was near Santo Tomas
and Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th.
The tank battalions next
covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at
the Pampanga River. The battalion's tanks
were on both sides of the on December 31st at the
On January 1st, conflicting
orders, about who was in command, were received by
the defenders who were attempting to stop the
Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the
Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward
Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of
the orders, since they came from Gen. MacArthur's
chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there
was confusion among the Filipinos and American
forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga
River about withdrawing from the bridge with half
of the defenders withdrawing. 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd
held the road open from San Fernando to
Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th,
the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using
smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to
destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks
withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding
its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion
could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and
then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the
bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit
to enter Bataan.
The night of January 7th, the
tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of
all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M.,
before the bridge had been destroyed by the
engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was
between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to
enter Bataan on which was worse than having no
road. The half-tracks kept throwing their
rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance
assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in
dangerous situations. After daylight,
Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the
The next day, a composite tank
company was formed under the command of Capt.
Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to
protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open
and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to
overrun the next defensive line that was forming.
While in this position, the tanks were under
constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of
the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the
When word came that a bridge
was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered
out of the area, which included the composite
company. This could have resulted in a
catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take
advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of
the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from
the East Coast Road. It had almost been one
month since the tank crews had a rest and the
tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th
Ordnance. It was also on this day that the
tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank
platoon. The men rested and the tanks
received the required maintenance. Most of
the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and
the radial engines long past their 400 hour
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."
The battalions were sent to
cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road
with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January
25th. While holding the position, the 45th
Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the
position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent
to the front of the the column of trucks which
were loading the troops. The tanks provided
heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and
inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25th, both the
192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the
Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw
was completed at midnight. They held the
position until the night of January 26th/27th,
when they dropped back to a new defensive line
roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When
ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd
found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were
suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy
fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary
roads to get around the barrio and tanks were
still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January
28th, were given the job of protecting the
beaches, while the battalion's half-tracks were
used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later
admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches
prevented them from attempting landings.
The tank battalions, on their
own, took up the job of protecting the airfields
at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese
paratroopers were known to be available. The
tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the
jungle around the airfields and different plans
were in place to be used against Japanese
forces. There was only one major alert in
March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
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
The Japanese lunched an all out
attack on April 3rd. On April 7th, 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 counter-attack.
The tank battalion commanders received this order
on April 8th, "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
When it became apparent to Gen.
Edward King that the situation was hopeless and he
wanted to prevent a massacre since he only 25% of
his troops were healthy enough to fight, while
approximately 6,000 troops were hospitalized from
wounds or disease. In addition, there were
approximately 40,000 civilians. The night of
April 8th, he sent his staff officers to negotiate
surrender terms with the Japanese.
The tankers received the order "crash" sometime
between 6:30 and 6:45, in the morning, on April
9th, and destroyed anything that had military
value for the Japanese. To destroy their
tanks, they circled them, fired an armor piercing
shell into the engine of each tank, opened the
gasoline cocks in the crew compartments, and
dropped hand grenades into them. Once this
was done, they were ordered to Provisional Tank
Group Headquarters and ordered to remain there.
It is believed that it was at this
time that Steve and the other other members of his
tank crew, Pvt. Rudolph Oliver, Pvt Arthur Gattie,
all joined the guerrillas. It is not known
when or how, but at some point Steve became a
Prisoner of War. Most likely he surrendered
when Gen. Johnathan Wainwright ordered all
resistenance to end with the surrender of
What is known is that
Steve was sent to Cabanatuan. While at
Cabanatuan, Steve was admitted into the camp
hospital. He was reported as a patient on
June 27, 1942. The report does not give the
illness or a date of discharge from the
hospital. It is not known if he went out on
a work detail, but the exact detail is not known.
In late 1944,
when it became apparent to the Japanese that the
invasion of the Philippines was near, most of the
POWs were sent to the Port Area of Manila.
The Japanese were attempting to send the healthy
POWs to Japan, and other countries, to work as
slave labor and prevent them from being liberated
by advancing American forces.
When Steve'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 Hokusen
Maru, but since one of the POW detachments
had not arrived on time to be boarded, Steve's
group was switched with another detachment of POWs
which was ready to sail.
Steve was one of 1803 POWs who 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. Since the POWs were packed
into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could
not get near the cans. The floor of the hold
was covered with human waste.
On October 11th, the
ship set sail but took a southerly route away
from Formosa. Within the first 48 hours,
five POWs had died. The ship anchored in a
cove off Palawan Island where it remained for
ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch
with a tarp. During the night, the POWs were in
total darkness. This resulted in the ship
missing an air attack by American planes, but
the ship was attacked by American planes while
in the cove.
Each day, each POW
was given three ounces of water and two half mess
kits of raw rice. Conditions in the hold
were so bad, that the POWs began to develop heat
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 wire the ship's blowers
into the light power lines. This allowed
fresh air into the hold. The blowers were
disconnected two days later when the Japanese
discovered what had been done.
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
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on
October 20th. There, it joined a twelve ship
convoy. 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 making them targets for American
submarines. The POWs in the hold became so
desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit
the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on
Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, some of
the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the
POWs in the ship's two holds. The ship was,
off the coast of China, in the Bashi
Channel. Suddenly, sirens and other alarms
were heard. The men inside the holds knew
this meant that American submarines had been
spotted and began to chant for the submarines to
sink the ship.
The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the
ship. As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed
in front of the bow of the ship. 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. It is believed that the
submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S
One of the Japanese guards aimed his machinegun
and began firing at the POWs who were on
deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the
holds. After they were in the holds, the
Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did
not tie them down.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope
ladders into the ship's two holds, but since they
had not tied down the hatch covers, some of the
POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and
reattached the ladders. They also dropped
ropes down to the POWs in both holds.
The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the
ship. At first, few POWs attempted to escape
the ship. Many raided the ship's food
lockers and ate their last meals.
A group of 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship,
but when the Japanese realized they were POWs,
they pushed them away with poles and hit them with
clubs. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy
deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they
attempted to reach them.
As the ship got lower in the water, some of the
POWs took to the water. These POWs attempted
to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch
covers, flotsam and jetsam. Most of the POWs
were still on deck even after it became apparent
that the ship was sinking. At some
point, the ship split in two. The exact time
of the ship's sinking is not known since it took
place after dark.
Five of the POWs found an abandoned lifeboat, but
since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver
it to help other POWs. According to the
survivors, the Arisan Maru sank sometime
after dark. As the night went on, the cries
for help grew fewer until there was silence.
T/4 Steve Lemke lost his life when the Arisan
Maru was torpedoed in the South China
the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the
sinking. Eight of these men would
survive the war. Since he was lost at sea,
T/4 Steve Lemke's name is inscribed on the Tablets
of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery
outside of Manila.
The picture at the top of the page shows Steve Lemke
with his sister and niece.