LemkeS

Tec 4 Steve Lemke


    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 Airfield.
    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 operations.
    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 Calumpit Bridge.
    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 tanks.
    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 Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    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 overhauls.
    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 Corregidor.
    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 accomplished."
    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 Corrigedor.
     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 blisters.

    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 escape.

    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 by torpedoes. 

    According to 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 Snook.

    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 Sea.  Of 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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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