Pfc. Robert E. Mitchell
    All that is known about the early life of Pfc. Robert E. Mitchell is that he was born in 1914 in Kentucky and was divorced and living in Houston, Texas, in 1940.  He returned to Christian County and was working as a farmer when he entered the army. 
    Robert trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and became a member of the 19th Ordnance Battalion and learned how to maintain the 57 different vehicles used by the Army.  He also learned how to repair the weapons used by tank battalions. 
    In August, as a member of A Company, he was taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas, when the company was ordered back to Ft. Knox.  There, it was designated the 17th Ordnance Company and received orders for overseas duty. 
    The decision for this move - which had been made on August 15, 1941, at Ft. Knox, Kentucky - 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.

    In September 1941, the company was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  Arriving by train, the company was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment.  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, and an unknown destroyer that were one of its escorts.  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., on September 26th, 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 8, 1941, Robert lived the bombing of Clark Field.  He and his company spent the next for months servicing tanks during the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula.  On April 9, 1942, his company received the news of the surrender.

    17th Ordnance made their way south to Mariveles.  From there, they started what became known as the death march.  Robert and the other Prisoners of War made their way to San Fernando.  Once there, they were boarded into wooden boxcars.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, the Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  At Capas, the dead fell out of the cars when the disembarked.

    The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell.  The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.  The Japanese pressed the camp 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 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 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.
    In the camp the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule.  If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed.  POWs caught trying to escape were beaten.  Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed.  It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  While on these details they 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.  Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.

   After arriving in the camp, Robert was selected to go out on a work detail.  The POWs  in the camp built runways and revetments at Nichols Field.  It is known that 1944 that the POWs built runways and revetments with picks and shovels.  They literally remove a mountain by hand to build the runway.  Meals consisted of leftover fish guts from the Japanese kitchen. It is known that he was still there in early October 1944
    As American Forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer large number of POWs to other parts of their empire.  The detail was ended and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison.  On October 10, 1944, Napier was boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  With him on the ship were other members of 17th Ordnance.  He and 1802 other 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 if lying 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.  The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days.  This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes.  

    During their time in the cove, the POWs discovered that although the Japanese had removed the lights from the hold the Japanese did not turnoff the power.  With a little work, the POWs manage to wire the ventilation system into the lighting system.  For two days, they had fresh air until the Japanese discovered what they had done.  They then turned off the power.  The heat in the hold got so bad that the POWs began developing heat blisters.  

    The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something to improve the situation and transferred POWs to the ship's first hold.  This hold was partially filled with coal.  During this transfer, one POW was shot and killed while attempting to escape.  

    The food situation was not much better.  Each day, each POW was allowed three ounces of water and a meal of rice.  The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th.  There, it joined a 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.  This made the ships targets for submarines.  

    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, some POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds.  The ship was, in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China.  Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard.  The men inside 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 the bow of the ship.  Moments later, a second torpedo passed the ship's stern.  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 took a 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 cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie the covers down.  The Japanese abandoned ship. 

    Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattach the ladders.  They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.  The POWs were able to get on deck.  

    At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship.  A group of 35 swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed 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 POWs took to the water.  These POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam.  Other POWs raided the ship's food lockers.  Since they could not swim, they wanted to die with full stomachs.  Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking.   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.

    Pfc. Robert E. Mitchell 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 survived the war. 

    Since he was lost at sea, Pfc. Robert E. Mitchell's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.


 




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