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
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
sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from
September 1 through 30. HQ Company did not
actively take part in the maneuvers but it
supplied the tanks and did maintenance on the
tanks during the maneuvers.
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.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen.
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 20 was the date that the National Guard
members of the battalion had expected to be
released from federal service.
On Monday, December 1, 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
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.
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.
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
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 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 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.