Pfc. Wilbur F. Russell Jr.
| Pfc. Wilbur F.
Russell, Jr. was born on February 27, 1918, to Wilbur
F. Russell Sr. & Charlotte Pannier-Russell in
Youngstown, Ohio. He was known as "Bill" or
"Red". With his sister, Marjorie, he grew up at
916 E. Pasadena Avenue. The family later lived
at 250 Falls Avenue.
As a child he attended Taft Elementary School and later Bennett Elementary School. He then attended South High School and graduated in January 1938. During Bill's time in high school, he had an orchestra in which he played the cornet and trumpet at school programs and for different music teachers. The orchestra was known as the "Red Russell Orchestra." After high school, he worked as a crane operator at Youngstown Sheet & Tube.
Bill was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 23, 1941 in Cleveland. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. It was there he was assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. 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 13, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. During his time at Ft. Knox, he qualified as a tank driver. 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 followed by dinner 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.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. HQ Company supplied the tanks and half-tracks with supplies and fuel. They also did maintenance work on the vehicles but did not actively take part in the maneuvers.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. Bill and most of the remaining soldiers were given leaves home to say their goodbyes.
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, 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 that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. 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 shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
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 that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. On December 8, 1941, Bill lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. That morning the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
All morning, as they stood guard, they watched as American planes filled the sky. Around 12:15 in the afternoon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. B-17's loaded with bombs to attack Formosa were left sitting on the runway. Around 12:45, the tankers saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. It was only when they saw what looked like confetti and heard bombs exploding did they know the planes were Japanese. This attack wiped out the Army-Air Corps.
Bill spent the next four months fighting the Japanese as the Filipino and American forces withdrew into the Bataan Peninsula. During this time, it is known that he served as a driver for the officers of the 192nd and the Provisional Tank Group. Major John Morley spoke of Bill driving him in his jeep. On April 8th, Wilbur was driving Morley and Gen. Jonathan Wainwright who were attempting to determine what was going on after the Japanese had lunched their major offensive. Bill pulled over at one point, built a fire, and made the two officers and himself cups of soup.
On April 9, 1942, Bill became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. Bill and the other tankers stripped their uniforms of anything that identified them as tankers. They had heard that the Japanese were looking for them for what they had done at the pockets.
Bill with his fellow POWs made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. There, they started what became know as the death march. Because of their poor diets, most of the POWs were already sick. After they started the march, they went days without food and water. This resulted with the deaths of hundreds of POWs. When the POWs reached San Fernando, they were herded into a bull-pin. They spent the night sleeping in the human waste of the previous POWs who had been held there before them.
The next morning, Bill and the others were packed into small wooden boxcars for the trip to San Fernando. The cars could hold four horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The temperature in the cars was over 100 degrees. Men suffocated from lack of air. Those who died during the trip remained standing. At Capas, the POWs left the cars. As they did, the bodies of the dead fell to the ground. Bill walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed 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 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 known as 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. What is known is that he was assigned to Barracks #8 in the camp. With him in the barracks was Pfc. John Robinette and Pvt. Joseph Pevey of C Company.
In early 1943, Bill was sent on the Bachrach Garage Detail in Manila. The POWs on this detail repaired trucks and other equipment for the Japanese. According to some on this detail, when the Japanese sent a tank to be repaired, the tank did not remain operational for long.
According to Bill's family, after the war another liberated POW told them that it was during this detail that he became an aide to a Japanese doctor. At various times, the Japanese attempted to transfer Bill to Bilibid Prison so that he could be sent to Japan, but the doctor intervened on his behalf preventing his transfer. Ironically, the doctor's kindness would lead to Bill's death.
In early October 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.
Later in the day on October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa and anchored in a cove, off Palawan Island, where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp so during the night, the POWs were in total darkness. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes that were returning from a bombing mission on the airfield on the island.
Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice. 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 hot-wire the ship's blowers into the light power lines. This allowed fresh air into the hold, until the power was disconnected, two days later, when the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.
After this was done, the POWs began to develop heat blisters. 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 20, where it joined a twelve ship convoy. On October 21, 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 and making them targets for American submarines. In addition, U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese and knew that the ship was carrying POWs. To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the 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 P.M., 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 waves were high since a storm had just passed. At about 5:50 P.M., as the POWs watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and a torpedo passed in front 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, but some POWs were still killed. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S. Snook.
The Japanese guards took their guns and used them as clubs on 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 them down. They then abandoned the ship.
Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped them to the men in the holds. 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 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." The ship 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. 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, because they wanted to die with full stomachs. Other POWs took to the water with anything that would float.
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 survivors, the Arisan Maru sunk sometime after dark on October 24, 1944. The men in the boat heard cries for help, but since they did not have oars, they could not maneuver the boat. The cries for help became fewer and fewer, until there was silence. The next day they picked up two more survivors. Four other men were picked up by a Japanese ship and taken to Formosa.
On June 20, 1945, Bill's family received a typed letter signed by General J. A. Ulio. The letter contained the news of Bill's death.
Pvt. Wilbur F. Russell Jr. lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the nearly 1775 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of these men would survive the war. Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Wilbur F. Russell's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
After the war, Wilbur's family had a memorial dedicated in his memory at the Boardman Zion Cemetery in Boardman, Ohio.