Pvt. James William Sallee

    Pvt. James W. Sallie was the son of Hez Sallee and Sarah Cunningham-Sallee.  He was born on May 18, 1916, in Mercer County, Kentucky.  With his four brothers and one sister, he grew up in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.  

    James and his brother, Heze, joined the Kentucky National Guard's 38th Division Tank Company in Harrodsburg.  When the company was federalized on November 25, 1940, he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for one year of military training as part of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  When Headquarters Company was created in January 1941, James was transferred from D Company to the new company.  

    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  HQ Company supplied the tanks and did maintenance on the tanks during the maneuvers. 
    It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and without being given a reason why.  On the side of a hill, the men learned they were being sent over seas as part of Operation PLUM.  Most figured out they were being sent to the Philippines.  Those men 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.

    By train, along the Gulf Coast, through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to San Francisco, California.  At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped, and Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers.  The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads.  After the train pulled out of the station. someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan.

    The train made its way north along the Pacific Coast arriving in San Francisco, where the men were taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell, on Angel Island.  After receiving physicals and inoculations.  Those with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced. 
     The battalion
boarded the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, which sailed on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy.  After many of 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 2nd, and were given shore leave so they could see the island.  On Wednesday, November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. 
    During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports 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 country.
When they arrived at Guam, 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 entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that day.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those men assigned to trucks drove to the fort, while the maintenance section remained on the pier and unloaded the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P.  King, who apologized that the men 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 all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease had been put on the weapons to keep them from rusting while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance and prepared for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.

    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half.  At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles.  Meals were brought to them by food trucks.   

    On December 8, 1941, James lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field just ten hours after Pearl Harbor.  That morning all the members of the tank crews were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield.  All morning, as they stood guard, and watched as American planes filled the sky.  Around 12:15 in the afternoon, the planes landed to be refueled 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 saw bombs exploding did they know the planes were Japanese.  This attack wiped out the Army Air Corps.

    James spent the next four months fighting the Japanese as the Filipino and American forces withdrew into the Bataan Peninsula.  He most likely took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  This mopping up action completely wiped out Japanese forces trapped in the Tuol Pocket.
    The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ Company's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese.  The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks.  The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
    The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire.  They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders.  At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.   

    On April 9, 1942, James 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.  After getting rid of everything that identified them as tankers, the members of the company remained in their bivouac for two days until a Japanese officer and soldiers appeared.  They were then ordered out to the road that ran by their encampment.

     Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their belongings in front of them.  While they were kneeling, Japanese soldiers who were passing them took anything they wanted from the Americans.  They remained along the sides of the road for hours.

    James and his company boarded their trucks and drove to outside of Mariveles and were ordered out of the trucks.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them.  They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.

    As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers.  He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off, while the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, the POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles.  The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours, and the Japanese did not feed them or give them water.  Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered.  Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs.  The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide, and some POWs were killed by incoming American shells.  One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit.  The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

    The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march they received no water and little food.  At San Fernando, they were put into a small wooden boxcars which could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  Those who died remained standing, since they could not fall, until the living climbed out of the cars.  From Capas, they walked the last miles to Camp O' Donnell.

   Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp.  It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.  There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp and to get a drink, men stood in line for days.  Many men died while waiting for a drink.  The conditions in the camp were so bad, that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.

    James was sent to the new camp after it opened.  At some point he was went out on a work detail to build runways.  It was while he was on this detail that his mother learned he was a POW in June 1943.  According to medical records kept at the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison at Manila, the work detail was referred to as the "Army Air Detail."  This information was recorded when James was admitted to the ward, from the detail, suffering from dengue fever.  He was discharged on August 20, 1944, and readmitted the next day.  A second discharge date is not known.  

    On October 10, 1944, was taken to the Port Area of Manila.  He and the other POWs were suppose to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru which was ready to depart, but not all the POWs scheduled to sail on the ship had arrived.  So that the ship could sail, the Japanese put another POW detachment - that was ready to sail - on the ship.  James and the rest of his POW detachment were boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11th.  He was one of nearly 1800 POWs packed into the ship's number one hold.

    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 lying down.  Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans, but the POWs were packed in the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans.  The floor of the hold was covered with human waste.  Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died.

    The ship sailed on October 11th, but took a southerly route away from Formosa.  In a cove off Palawan Island, the ship anchored and remained there for ten days.  The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp, so that during the night, the POWs were in total darkness.  Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes.

    During the time off Palawan, the ship, on one occasion, was attacked by American planes.  Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice.  Conditions in the hold were so bad, that the POWs began to develop heat blisters.  Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power.  Some of the prisoners were able to hot wire the ship's blowers into the power lighting system.  This allowed fresh air into the hold, until the power was turned off, two days later, when the Japanese discovered what had been done. 

    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.  The hold was partially filled with coal.  At this point, while the men were being transferred, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.

    The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th, where it joined a convoy.  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 which made the ships targets for submarines.  The POWs in the holds were 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., in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, some POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds.  About half the POWs had been fed.  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 Japanese on deck began running around the ship.  As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed the bow of the ship.  Moments later, the Japanese ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind 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 did kill 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 hold, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie down the covers.  After this was done, the Japanese abandoned ship.

    Some of the POWs in the first hold were able to climb out and reattached the rope ladders in both holds.  The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship.  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."

    At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship.  When they did, a group of 30 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed themunder water with poles to drown them and hit with clubs.  The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach the ships.

    As the ship got lower in the water, some POWs took to the water.  More 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.   Those too weak to swim or unable to swim raided the ship's food lockers, since they wanted to die with full stomachs.  At some point the ship broke in two.  The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.

    Three of the POWs found an abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles and the sea was rough, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs.  According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sank sometime after dark.  As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer and fewer until there was silence.  The next morning, the POWs in the boat saved two more men.

    Pvt. James William Sallee lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea.  Of the nearly 1800 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking, but only eight of these men would survive the war.  Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. James W. Sallee's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.



Return to D Company