James Henry Robertson
| T/5 James H. Robertson was born in
1918 in Polk County, Missouri. He was the younger
of two sons born to William H. Robertson & Gertrude
McCulland-Robertson. He grew up in unincorporated
James was inducted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for basic training. After basic training, he was assigned to the HQ Company, 194th Tank Battalion.
In September 1941, the 194th was sent to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and ferried on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment. Those men with medical conditions were replaced.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. 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.
By the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way toward shore. Since, communication between the Air Corps and Navy were 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.
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. The enlisted men also slept in the ship's hold. 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. 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 ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16 and it became Thursday, September 18. They entered Manila Bay, on September 26, 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. which took until the next morning.
On December 1, 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 tankers lived in tents at the fort until their barracks were finished on November 15. The first week of December 1941, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers. Two tank crew members remained with the tank at all times and received their meals from food tucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers heard the news of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. As they sat their tanks, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were having lunch, which meant a tank crew member went to the food truck and got food for the other members of the crew. As they sat in their tanks, they watched two formations, of 27 planes each, approaching the airfield from the north. At first they believed the planes were American, it was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
During the attack the members of HQ Company took cover in ditches since they had few weapons that could be used against planes. The attack lasted for about 45 minutes. 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.
The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Jaoaquin on the Malolus Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12. It would receive 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank. The battalion moved again to west and north of Rosario and was operating in north of the Agno River the night of December 22/23.
The tank battalions formed the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas defensive line the night of December 26/27. They were holding a new line at the Bamban River the night of December 29/30 and were at the Calumpit Bridge the next night.
On January 5, they were at Lyac Junction and dropped back to Remedios were a new defensive line was formed.
The night of January 6/7, the 194th withdrew over a bridge on the Culis Creek covered by the 192nd Tank Battalion, and entered Bataan. The 192nd crossed the bridge before it was destroyed and entered Bataan.
The tank battalions were covering the East Coast Road on January 8. It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each and HQ Company with the 17th Ordnance Company were able to do long overdue maintenance on the tanks.
The tanks continued to cover withdraws for the rest of January and February. In March, HQ Company was recovering two tanks that had been bogged down in the mud when the Japanese entered the area. Lt. Col. Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point blank range and ran from tank to tank directing the fire.
On April 4th, the Japanese lunched an all out offensive at 3:00 P.M., and the tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. 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.
Sometime between 6:30 A.M. and 6:45 A.M., the tankers received the order "crash" and disabled their tanks so that they could not be used by the Japanese. The company received orders from the Japanese and remained in its bivouac until April 10th when the Japanese arrived and ordered HQ Company to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2. They remained there until 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march. They made their way from the former command post, and at first found the walk difficult. When they reached the main road, walking became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher, were separated from the enlisted men and the lower ranking officers. The higher ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani. The lower ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having march through Abucay and Samal.
At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lurao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
The men were marched until 4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights." Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died - during the trip - fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
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 and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
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 Brothers.
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 "speedo" 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.
At some point, James was sent out on a work detail to Manila that repaired trucks and other equipment for the Japanese. The detail was known as the Bachrach Garage Detail which was the name of a cab company in Manila, and he remained on this detail until October 1944.
In early October the detail was ended. On October 11, 1944 the POWs were marched to Pier 7. Once there, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru because the ship they were scheduled to sail on had sailed earlier with other POWs on it. This was done because not all the POWs in the detachment he was in had arrived at the pier and the ship was ready to sail.
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.
The ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa and arrived in a cove off Palawan Island where it dropped anchor. This move resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes. While in the cove, the POWs discovered that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the hold's lighting system, but that they had not turned off the power to the system. The POWs managed to hot wire the hold's ventilation system into the lights. For two days, the POWs had fresh air. When the Japanese discovered what the POWs had done, they turned off the power.
The POWs began developing heat blisters, so the Japanese decided to move some of them to another hold. While transferring the POWs one man was shot when he tried to escape. It was also at this time the ship was attacked by American planes that had just conducted a raid on Palawan.
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila nine days later., where it became part of a twelve ship convoy bound for Formosa. 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. In addition, to protect the fact that American Military Intelligence had cracked the Japanese code, the submarine crews were not informed that POWs were being transported on the ships.
The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines. The waves were high since a storm had just passed. At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner. About half the POWs on the ship had been fed. When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship. The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship.
Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark, amidship, killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly. A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death.
The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the second hold. Once they were in the hold the Japanese cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover before abandoning the ship.
POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds. The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck. 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 script." 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."
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. It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship. When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs. Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal. These men wanted to die with full stomachs. Other POWs took to the water with anything that would float.
Three men managed to get into a lifeboat that had been abandoned by the Japanese. But since the sea was rough and they had no paddles, they could not maneuver the boat. According to the men as the night went on, the cries for help became fewer until there was silence. The next morning, they rescued two more POWs.
Of the nearly 1800 POWs who boarded the Arisan Maru at Manila, only nine survived the sinking. Only eight of these POWs would survive the war. T/5 James H. Robertson was not one of them. His name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.
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