Cpl. Marvel V. Peterson was born in 1921 and was the son of Clarence A. Peterson and Orpha Flora-Peterson.
With his three brothers and sister, he grew up in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. It is known that in 1930, he was
living with his grandparents on his mother's side of the family. It appears his parents divorced
and his mother would later marry J. W. Brackin. He moved to Janesville in 1938, and in 1939, Marvel was
living at 319 North Jackson Street. Sometime after arriving in Janesville he made an important decision and
joined the Wisconsin National Guard.
On November 25, 1940, his National Guard company was designated A Company, 192nd Tank
Battalion, and on November 28 rode a train to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for one year of federal duty. It was
there that the tankers attended various schools for specific training. It is not known what training
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers
were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed
by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30. Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the
company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal
equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was
from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on
January 13th, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day
and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and dinner was at 5:30.
After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00
when Taps was played.
After nearly a year of training, Marvel took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September
1 through 30. It was after these maneuvers that he and the other members of his tank battalion were ordered
to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill, that the tankers learned
they were going overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM
stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.
After being given leave home, Marvel married Gladys. Marvel returned to Camp Polk
to prepare for duty overseas.
The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by the ferry, the
U.S.A.T. General Frank
M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and
physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained
behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.S. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27 at 9:00 P.M. After the members of the
battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns,
cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two day
layover. The soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southern route away from
the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the
U.S.S. Louisville and the
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on
the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the
direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly
When they arrived at Guam, on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas,
coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island
at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent
into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at
Pier 7 later in the day. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Ft.
Stotsenburg. The truck drivers drove their trucks to the fort, while the maintenance section remained
behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live
in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they
needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically,
November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the
Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men
were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed
at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons
which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did
tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard
against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all
times and received their meals from food trucks. The tankers had orders that if an attack came that they
were suppose to use their .37 millimeter guns as anti-aircraft guns.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor
had been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks
were brought up to full strength at the airfield. Many of the men believed this was the start of
the maneuvers. At 8:30 A.M., American took off to intercept any Japanese planes.
Sometime before noon, the planes landed to be refueled and lined up near the mess hall, and the
pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when planes were seen approaching the
airfield from the north at about 12:45. Many of the tankers had enough time to count 54 planes.
As the planes approached the airfield, the tankers watched what was described as "raindrops"
falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The tankers
watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else that
could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics placed the wounded
under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
Those members of the company not assigned to half-tracks or tanks walked around Clark Field to
look at the damage and saw that there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep in
their tents, during the first attack, because they had flown night missions. Others were pilots who had been
killed attempting to get to their planes.
Since another attack was expected, vehicles were dispersed and camouflaged. The tanks
remained around the perimeter of Clark Field to prevent a paratroop assault. The soldiers had no idea if an
invasion would soon follow.
Four days after the attack, on December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so
it would be close to a highway and railroad to protect them against sabotage. From there, the company was
sent to join the other companies of the 192nd to the north at Lingayen Gulf
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost
the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of
Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance
early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from
Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were
ordered the line for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
Lt. William Read was killed on December 30. On a road east of Zaragoza, that night, the
company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke
the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns. As they watched, a
Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers
opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To
leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
It was at the Gumain River on December 31, while the company was attached to the 194th
Tank Battalion, that they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his
men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gun shot. The tankers had no
idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had lunched a major offensive.
The tankers sprayed a withering fire on the Japanese who were easy to see because they
were wearing white shirts. Taking heavy casualties, the Japanese put down a smoke screen, which blew back
on their own troops because of the wind. There was a great deal of confusion which the Japanese took
advantage of during the fight. One Japanese soldier managed to plant a thermite bomb on a tank's bow
gun port which wounded the crew when it went off, but the tank was driven to a safe location which prevented it
from being lost. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered 50% casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make
a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be
Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was
there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. The company returned to the command of
the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.
The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast. The
Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January
23 to February 17 - to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a
Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the
pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank
exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one
that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three
Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos
dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over
the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding
its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of
gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the
vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the
Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers
did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the
tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this
battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at
a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit
the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug "spider holes" among the
roots the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the
The tankers from A, B, and C Companies were able to clear the pockets. But
before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and
the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there.
During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese
had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the
crew. The tank was put back into use.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands
on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.
They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the
soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two
meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on
them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the
picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for
a good meal.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking
out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had
listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said
, "There are times when men must die."
The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and
aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the
volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line
open to the Japanese.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on
Bataan. It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was
futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one
more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared
would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order
: "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 Bataan was surrendered on April 9, 1942, Marvel became a Prisoner Of War and took
part in the death march. The first five miles of the march was uphill which was made harder since most of
the men were sick. They made their way north to San Fernanndo, where, they were packed into small wooden
boxcars known as forty or eights. This name came from the fact the car was large enough to hold forty men
or eight horses, but the Japanese put 100 POWs in each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained
standing since there was not enough room for them to fall to the floors. When the train arrived at Capas,
the living left the cars and walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base which 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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical
supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross
sent medical supplies to 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
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.
To get out of Camp O'Donnell, Marvel volunteered to go out on a work detail to Camp
Olivas. This was a scrap metal detail and the POWs' job was to drive disabled vehicles.
The vehicles were tied together by rope and tied to an operating vehicle. A POW sat in each vehicle
driving it as they were pulled to San Fernando. From San Fernando, the vehicles were taken to Manila and
sent to Japan as scrap metal.
At some point, Marvel may have broken a rule, since he was sent to the Provincial
Hospital at Pampanga with bruises which were the result of a beating. On August 24, Marvel was taken by
the Japanese from the hospital but it is not known if he returned to the detail or taken to Cabanatuan.
It is known he was held at Cabanatuan which had been opened while he was on the work detail.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan
and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was
closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when
Corregidor surrender were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the
surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only
entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that
patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught,
were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW
successfully escaped from the camp.
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 barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120
POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting.
Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group
lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens.
The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day
on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to
a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to
hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of "Big Speedo" who spoke very little
English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs
"speedo." Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs
thought he was fair. Another guard was "Little Speedo" who was smaller and also used
when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of
them. "Smiley" was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be
trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs
with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it.
Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after
arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the
guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite
punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a
guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs 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.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant
"wet rice." During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no
fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the
Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a
fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were
two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the
lower platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves. Most of those who
entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of
four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in
graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
In July 1943, Marvel went out on the Las Pinas Work Detail, which was also known as the
Pasay School Detail, since the POWs were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen classrooms. 30 POWs were
assigned to sleep in each room. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy at
Nielsen Field. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before
the war, but the Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment.
Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows. The first POWs
arrived at Pasay in August 1942, and the work was easy until the runway reached the hills. When the
extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand. The dirt
was pushed in wheelbarrows to the swamp where it was dumped as landfill. When this became inefficient,
the Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as
land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
At six in the morning each day, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count,
at 6:15, in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast, which was a fish soup with rice.
After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs
marched a mile and half to the airfield.
After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again. They went to a tool
shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the work day, the POWs were
counted again. When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again. Then, they would rush
to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another
meal of fish and rice and counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the
camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was
commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.
One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man
and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn't, four other Americans were made to carry the
man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes
as much as possible. The rest of the Americans were ordered back to the school. As they stood in
formation, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was
marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that
the POW had sai
, "Tell them I went down smiling." The White Angel shot the
POW as the man smiled at him, and as the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The White
Angel told them that this would happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."
He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and
select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each
side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was
beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway, and the Wolf had the man taken back
to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he
banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He took the man to the
showers and drowned him in the shower basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him as
he walked away. The guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the
doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was left there all day and was dead
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in
boxes, and the Japanese had death certificates - with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor -
sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at
Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began arriving at Bilibid did they
learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it
was reported to the International Red Cross.
The Japanese realizing that the Americans would be invading the Philippines ended the
detail, and Marvel was sent to Bilibid Prison, where he remained until October 1944. Marvel was marched
to the Port Area of Manila to be sent to Japan shortly after arriving at the prison. When they arrived,
the ship they were scheduled to sail on the
Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but the entire POW detachment had not arrived at the pier. There
was another detachment of POWs which had completely arrived but was waiting because their ship, the
Arisan Maru was not ready to sail. The Japanese switched the POW detachments so the
Hokusen Maru could sail.
October 2, 1944, 1775 POWs were marched to the Port Area of
Manila. When his POW group arrived at the pier, the ship they where scheduled to sail on, the
Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the
pier. Another POW detachment, scheduled to sail on the
Arisan Maru, had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail. It was at that time
that the Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the
Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 10, the POWs boarded the Ar
isan Maru and 1775 prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the ship which could hold 400
men. They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Along the sides of the hold were
shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up when he
used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five
gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in
the floor of the hold being covered with human waste. Anton Cichy said
, "For the first few days, there were 1800 of us together in one hold. I don't know how big
the hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck together."
Calvin Graef said
, "We were packed in so tight most men couldn't get near the cans. And, of course, it was a
physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and
dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with
lice, bedbugs and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description."
The ship sailed the next day, but took a southerly route away from Taiwan and dropped
anchor in a cove off Palawan Island. During the first 48 hours off Palawan, five POWs died. The
POWs realized that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the lighting system, but that they had not
turned off the power. They figured out a way to hook the ventilation system into the lights and had fresh
air for two days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.
The POWs began developing heat blisters, and the Japanese conceded that more POWs
would die unless they did something. The Japanese transferred POWs from the first hold to its second
hold. This hold was partially filled with coal. During the transfer, one POW attempted to escape
and was shot.
Of this time, Graef said
, "As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was
maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under
these conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty five
gallon tins of fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked the cloth
dry. Men licked their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
On October 20, the
Arisan Maru returned to Manila, where, it joined a twelve ship convoy bound for Taiwan. The convoy
sailed on October 21 after all the ships had been loaded. 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, U.S. Military Intelligence, was reading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect
this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews which ships were carrying POWs.
Graef described conditions in the hold.
"There were so many (that died ) out of 1800. The condition in that hold.....men were just
dying in a continuous stream. Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and
died. You were being starved men were dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like
you were choking to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard."
, "The Japs told us that they'd be in Formosa the next day to pick up some cargo. They had
to make room on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one but
didn't think anything about it."
It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24, and ten of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in
the ship's holds and had fed about half the POWs. The waves were high since the ship had been through
a storm in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded warning of
submarines. The POWs in the holds chanted for the submarine to sink the ship.
It was 4:50 P.M. when the Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a
torpedo pass in front of the ship. They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo
pass behind the ship. The ship shook and came to a stop. It had been hit by two torpedoes,
amidships, in an empty hold. The POWs began cheering wildly, but it stopped when they realized they were
facing death. Cichy recalled
, "When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!' We wanted to get it
Lt. Robert S. Overbeck said,
"When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and weak
He also said of the incident
, "The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it
didn't break in two. For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six
chaplains who prayed fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips -- 300 of them on deck -- were
scurrying about, scared as hell. The boilers exploded. I don't think any of us got hurt in
the torpedoing or the explosion. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The
Japs took the two lifeboats aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. That was about 5:00
It is believed the submarine that fired the torpedoes was either the
U.S.S. Snook or the
The guards took their rifles and used them as clubs to drive the POWs on deck into the
holds. Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over
the holds, but they did not tie the hatch covers down. Cichy recalled
, "The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have forgot about the
prisoners on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches
and told us to come up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of guys down below. One
of them escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S.
Cichy also stated
, "The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving
The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. On the ship's
deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said
, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one
thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the
Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them
, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."
, "We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so
thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the
destroyers, had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down
the hold the day before.
"But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no
resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not
tell who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been
carrying Jap troops. The men were brave and none complained.
"Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry 'so long'
The ship slowly sank lower into the water.
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the
water. At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but
the halves remained afloat. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the
ship was sinking. Some POWs attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers,
rafts, and other flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them
away with poles. Of this Glenn Oliver said
, "They weren't picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were
swimming for the destroyer, but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water."
, "I could see people still on the ship when it went down. I could see people against the
skyline, just standing there." In the water he watched as the ship went under. "I
kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I
didn't ask them."
Three POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to climb in but found it had no
oars. With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the
Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. Oliver - who was not in
the boat - stated he heard men using what he called "GI whistles" to contact each other.
"They were blowing these GI whistles in the night. This weird moaning sound. I
can't describe it."
The next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other men were picked up
by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa and finally sent to Japan. The next day the three men in
the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom. Cpl. Marvel V. P
on was not one of them.
In 1945, his family received this message:
"The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11,
1944, with 1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the
south China Sea over 200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners
escaped in a small boat and reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the
Japanese by whom all others aboard are reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened
to the other individual prisoners and known circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all
other prisoners listed by the Japanese as aboard the vessel perished."
Since he was lost at sea,
Cpl. Marvel V. Peterson's name appears of The Tablets of the Missing at the
American Military Cemetery outside Manila. Unfortunately, he is inaccurately listed as a member of the
194th Tank Battalion on the tablets.