| What is known about
Sgt. Willard Russell was that he was from Russell
County, Kentucky. He was born in 1919 and enlisted
in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Knox,
Kentucky. He was assigned to the 19th Ordnance
Battalion. A Company of the battalion was later
reorganized as the 17th Ordnance Company.
In the late summer of 1941, 17th Ordnance received orders for duty in the Philippine Islands. Traveling west by train, the company arrived in San Francisco, California. Upon arrival, the company went to work removing the turrets from the tanks. They spray painted the tank's serial number on the turret so they would be reattached to the right tanks. The reason this was done was the hold's ceiling was too low for the tanks to fit with their turrets on them.
On Monday, September 8, 1941, they boarded the U.S.S. Calvin Coolidge. At 9:00 P.M. the same day, the ship sailed for the Philippines. A 7:00 A.M. on Saturday, September 13th, the ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, at 7:00 A.M. It sailed the same day at 5:00 P.M. On Friday, September 26th, the ship arrived at Manila. The soldiers disembarked and unloaded the tanks from the ship's hold. After unloading them, the men reattached the of each tank.
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Willard 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, Willard 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.
Willard was selected to go out on a work detail to Manila. This detail was known as the Bachrach Garage Detail. The POWs repaired trucks and other equipment for the Japanese. He remained on this detail until it was disbanded and the POWs were sent to Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan.
The detachment of POWs that Willard was in was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since the ship was ready to sail and all the POWs had not arrived, the Japanese switched his detachment with that of another POW detachment.
On October 10, 1944, Willard was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. On October 11th, the ship ssailed but took a southerly route away from Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes. During this time, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape. The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila a on October 20th. There, it joined a convoy.
The POWs in the ship's hold discovered that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the hold, but they had not turned off the power. Some of the POWs managed to hotwire the holds ventalation system into its lighting system. This meant that they had fresh air for several days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power to the hold.
On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. This made the ships targets for submarines.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds. The ship was, in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China. Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard. The men inside holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted and began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.
The Japanese on deck began running around the ship. As the POWs watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a torpedo passed the bow of the ship. Moments later, they ran to the stern. 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. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.
One of the Japanese guards took a machinegun and fired on the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds. They did not tie down the covers.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds, but they did not tie down the hatch covers. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders into the holds. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.
The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 35 swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.
The majority of the POWs remained on the ship's deck. As the ship got lower in the water, some POWs took to the water. These POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Four of the POWs found a abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the survivors, they could hear the POWs using "GI" whistles to communicate with each other. As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer until there was silence.
Sgt. Willard Russell died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru. Posthumously, Willard was awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Unit Citation with Oak Leaves, the Victory Medal, the Silver Star, the Foreign Service and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbons. Since he died at sea, Sgt. Willard Russell's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila
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