Pvt. Robert Hazel Moss


   What is known about Pvt. Robert H. Moss is that he was born to Thomas C. Moss & Emma T. Skaggs-Moss on August 1, 1922, in Oak Hill, Taylor County, Kentucky.  He was the second of the couple's three sons.  He was inducted into the army on August 5, 1940, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion.  A Company of the battalion was later reorganized as the 17th Ordnance Company.

    In September 1941, 17th Ordnance was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the Provisional Tank Group.  On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Robert lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  He spent the next four months servicing the tanks of the the tank group.

    On April 9, 1942, Robert became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.  There, the POWs were boarded onto small wooden boxcars that could hold forty men.  One hundred men were packed into each car.  The dead remained standing until the living left the cars.  He then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Camp which the Japanese pressed into service as a POW Camp.  As many as fifty men died each day.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp.  Fred was sent to Cabanatuan when the new camp opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.

    On October 26, 1942, Robert was selected for a work detail to be sent to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs were sent by train from Cabanatuan to Manila.  They were held in Bilibid Prison for two days before being boarded onto the Erie Maru.  The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao.  Robert arrived on the Island of Mindanao  on November 7th.  Robert was one of 650 POWs who built an airfield at Lasang, while 100 POWs built an airfield south of Davao. 
    In early September an American bomber came over the airfield and dropped four bombs at the far end of the airfield making holes in the runway.  It was the first American plane the POWs had seen in two and one half years.
    The climate in the camp became even more tense.  Japanese planes took off with extra fuel tanks and bombs under their wings.  The Japanese also began camouflaging the planes and putting the planes in the revetments.  At night, air raid alerts became a frequent event. 
    Work on the airfield came to a stop and the Japanese kept the POWs in their compound and cut the food rations of the POWs to a cupful of rice and a boiled camote peeling once every 24 hours.  The POWs began going through the Japanese garbage dump looking for food or eating grass.

    After about two weeks, the Japanese told the POWs that they were going to be moved from Lasang.  When it became apparent that it was just a matter of time before the Americans would be landing in the Philippines, the Japanese ordered the Shinyo Maru to Palau.  It was given orders to pick up evacuees from Palau for transport to Manila.

    On August 19, 1944, the POWs were organized into detachment with rows of four men.  The men on the each side of the column had their hands tied by rope to the man in front and back of him.  The POWs were marched, shoe-less, to the Tabunco pier.   The next day they packed into the holds of an unknown hell ship.  Four hundred men were put in one hold and 350 in the other hold.  The ship sailed at 6:00 P.M. and for the next three days there were several alerts.  Each time the hatch covers were put on the POWs found themselves in complete darkness.  On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days.  The conditions in the ship's holds were terrible and the holds were hot and steamy.  In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench from the sweat and human waste became worse.  Twice during this time the POWs were allowed on deck and washed down with salt water.  Afterwards, they were returned to the holds.   

    On the tenth day, September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru with 250 POWs put in the smaller hold and the rest in the larger hold.  That night they heard the sound of planes and machine-gun fire.  The ship rocked from explosions of bombs hitting the harbor installations.  Some of the POWs began to scream as others attempted to calm them down while praying for a direct hit. 
    The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 A.M. and followed a zigzag pattern.  Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below.  The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076.  Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.
    The POWs were no longer allowed on deck to empty the latrine buckets.  When an alert took place, the hatch covers were locked down and tarpaulins were placed over the hatched cutting off the air completely.

    It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga.  Someone misinterpreted the order as saying that "750 troops" instead of "750 prisoners" were being sent to Manila.  The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.  This mistake would be acknowledged on December 31, 1944.

    At 7:37 p.m. the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point.  It fired two torpedoes at the ship.  The first sign for the POWs that something was happening was when they heard the sound of Japanese machine-guns firing at something in the water.  There was terrific explosion followed immediately by a second explosion.  The hatch covers were blown off the holds during the explosions.
    Many of the POWs in the holds were bleeding and dying.  Water began rushing into the hold from the hole in the ship's side.  To escape the holds, the POWs began climbing from the ship's holds.  Others went into the water through the hole in the side of the ship.  The Japanese, who were standing on the bridge with rifles, shot the prisoners as they climbed out.

     The POWs who made it into the water were hunted down by the Japanese in lifeboats.  Japanese seaplanes flew above the POWs and dropped depth charges attempting to sink the American submarine.  The one result of this was that there were no sharks in the water.
    One group of POWs, who were promised safety if they surrendered, had their hands tied to a ship's rail.  As they stood tied to the rail, a Japanese officer walked behind each man a shot him in the head.  One POW in this group managed to get his hands free and escaped into the water.  Eighty-two of the POWs were successful in escaping and made it to shore.  What saved their lives was it was evening and the Japanese could not see them clearly in the dark.  As they swam to shore the Japanese fired at them.

    According to the surviving POWs in the water, there was a tremendous crushing sound.  The ship seemed to bend up in the middle and then sank into the water.  Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 were rescued by Filipino guerillas.  They would later be taken by submarine to New Guinea and returned to United States.

    It is not known if Robert died when the Shinyo Maru sank or if he was shot while attempting to escape the ship.  What is known is that Pvt. Robert H. Moss died in the sinking of the Shinyo Maru on Thursday, September 7, 1944.

    Since Pvt. Robert H. Moss was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.




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