| 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. The decision for this
move - which had been made on August 15, 1941 - was the
result of an event that took place in the summer of
1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying
over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, 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 which was hundred of miles away. The island
had a large radio transmitter. The squadron
continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and
returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too
late to do anything that day. The next day, when
another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had
been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its
deck - which was seen making its way to shore.
Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was
difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time
the decision was made to build up the American military
presence in the Philippines.
On September 1, 1941, the company
rode a train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California,
on September 5, and were ferried, by the U.S.A.T.
General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel
Island. It was there the soldiers received
physicals and inoculations and those men found with
medical conditions were replaced.
The soldiers spent three days
preparing their equipment and the equipment of the 194th
Tank Battalion for shipment to the Philippine
Islands. The turrets of the tanks were removed and
the tank's serial number was sprayed on each one so that
it could be reattached to the right tank.
The men boarded the S.S.
President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 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. They arrived
at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 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
that were its escorts. 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 the date changed
to Thursday, September 18. The ships entered
Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, 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 wasn't finished until the next morning.
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.
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 and the doors were closed.
The dead remained standing until the living left the
cars. He then walked the last ten miles to Camp
The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base
that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on
April 1, 1942. When the POWs 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
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
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
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
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. The death rate
still was 9 POWs a day into December when the Japanese
issued the POWs Red Cross Packages. Doing this and
changes made to the camp by the POWs lowered the death
selected to go out on a work detail to Manila that 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.
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.
On October 10, the POWs boarded the
Arisan 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. Those POWs who had lain down in
the wooden bunks along the haul could not sit up
because the bunks were so close together. Eight
large cans served as the washroom facilities for the
Later in the day on October 11, the
ship set sail but took a southerly route away from
Formosa. The ship 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 once by
American planes while there.
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.
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 making them targets for
American submarines. In addition, U.S. military
intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast
as the Japanese. 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
According to the survivors of the Arisan
Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00
pm, 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 it still killed some POWs. 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 and sank sometime after
dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. The men in
the boat heard cries for help, which 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.
Sgt. Willard Russell died in
the sinking of the Arisan
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