Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle
Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle
was the youngest of the three children of Edward
Schoeberle & Agnes Higgins-Schoeberle and was
born February 18, 1916. He grew up, with his
brother and sister, on the family's farm and later
at 1305 West Eastern Avenue in Janesville,
Wisconsin. Ken attended local schools and
was a 1934 graduate of Janesville High
School. After high school he worked in a
After graduation, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company which was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. He was a member of the company when it was called to federal service in the fall of 1940.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was activated as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. After packing equipment for a number of days, the battalion left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28th, where it trained for ten months.
During the time Kenneth trained at Ft. Knox, he was sent to classes that trained him to be a company clerk. It was his job to make sure supplies were ordered and payrolls were met.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion
was sent to Louisiana to take part in
maneuvers. It was after these maneuvers
that the battalion expected to hear the news
that they were being released from federal
service. Instead, they learned that their
time in the regular army had been extended from
one to six years. Those men 29 years old
or older were released from duty, and those
remaining men were given passes home.
Kenneth returned home and said goodbye to his
family and friends.
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.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each tank crew had to remain with the tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks were put on alert around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off to intercept any Japanese planes. Sometime before noon, the planes landed to be refueled and were lined up in a straight line near the pilots' mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north at about 12:45, and the tankers counted 54 planes. The planes approached the airfield and the tanks crews watched what was described as "raindrops" falling from the planes. When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The members of A Company lived through the
bombing of Clark Field. During the attack,
they could do little since their guns were not
made to use against planes. For
some reason, not known to the tankers, the
Japanese did not attack the tanks. Those
that did dropped their bombs between the tanks.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to
an area east of Pampanga. It was there
that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt.
William Read. The company returned to the
192nd on January 8, 1942.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat
everything they could get their hands on to
eat. The Carabao were tough but if they
were cooked long enough they could be
eaten. They also began to eat horse meat
provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To
make things worse, the soldiers' rations were
cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This
meant that they only ate two meals a day.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an
attack supported by artillery and
aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops
came over Mount Samat and descended down the
south face of the volcano. This attack
wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a
large area of the defensive line open to the
Japanese. It was the evening of April 8
that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further
resistance was futile, since approximately 25%
of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he
estimated they would last one more day. In
addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or
wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would
be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent
his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Not too long after they arrived there, Ken's group was sent to Calauan to rebuild bridges. There, they were joined by Joe McCrea and William Nolan of A Company. There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
The Japanese commander of the detail treated the POWs well. He allowed a Filipino doctor to treat the men. He also allowed the Filipinos to bring food to the prisoners. The POWs were allowed to roam the barrio, but they could not leave the perimeter of it.
Life for the POWs got worse when they were taken to Batangas. The food fed to them was worse. It consisted mostly of rice with some greens and salt. Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed. Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.
From Batangas, the work detail moved to Candaleria. There, the older Japanese guards were replaced with younger guards. These guards were less tolerant and took pleasure in punishing the POWs. Once again, the people of the town did whatever they could to help the Americans. An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner. Wickord picked the twelve sickest looking POWs to attend the meal.
When the detail ended, Ken was sent to
Cabanatuan which 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, but 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.
In October 1942, Ken and other prisoners were loaded onto a ship and sent to Davao, Mindanao. They were taken to a camp about 36 miles from Davao City. There, the POWs were unloaded and used as labor. Some of the POWs were used as labor at construction sites while others farmed in the camp farm. Many of the POWs were ill and needed vitamins. The fruit that was being grown on the farm could have helped the prisoners, but it was allowed to rot on the ground by the Japanese instead of being given to the prisoners. Even the Japanese guards were not allowed to eat it.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in each bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor, and the American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of the POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, for misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and because translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Ken spent almost two years at Davao.
During that time, American forces were making
their way toward the Philippines. Bombings
of Japanese installations became a daily
occurrence. It was at this time that the
Japanese decided to move the 750 POWs at Davao
back to Manila.
From there, the POWs were taken to Cabanatuan. When the Japanese began to transfer large numbers of POWs to Japan, Kenneth was among the POWs transferred to Bilibid Prison. The POWs were examined to determine which prisoners were too ill to be sent to Japan. A draft of POWs was made and Ken's name was on the list of those being sent to another part of the Japanese Empire.
When Ken's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila on October 10, 1944, they had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru. The ship was ready to sail, but the entire POW detachment had not arrived at the pier. Another ship, the Arisan Maru, was not ready to sail, but it entire POW detachment had arrived. So the Hokusen Maru could sail, the Japanese decided to switch POW detachments.
Ken and almost 1775 other POWs were 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 he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in the floor of the hold being covered with human waste.
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 at night, the POWs were in total darkness. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. Being sent to Palawan resulted in the ship missing an air attack on Manila Bay by American planes, but the ship was later attacked by American planes during a raid on Palawan.
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 to the lights. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the power lines for the lights which allowed fresh air into the hold for two days. The power was 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. While the men were being moved, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20, 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. This made the ships targets for submarines. In addition, U.S. Military Intelligence, was reading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews which ships were carrying POWs.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, at about 5:00 P.M., POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds, and about half of the POWs had been fed. The ship was in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China. Suddenly, around 5:50, 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.
As the POWs on deck 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 stern and 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 still killing some POWs. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.
The Japanese guards took their rifles 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 did not tie them down before they abandoned ship.
After the Japanese were gone, the some POWs from the first hold made their way on deck and reattached the rope ladders into the holds. 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."
According to the surviving men, the ship remained afloat for hours but slowly got lower in the water. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. The stern began to go under water, which caused the ship to break in two, but both halves remained afloat. It was about this time that a group of 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship. When the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed under water with poles to drown them and hit them with clubs. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.
As the ship got lower in the water, more 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. Those who could not swim raided the food lockers so they could die with full stomachs.
Five of the POWs found a 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 until there was silence. The next morning, they rescued two more men.
In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking, but only eight of the POWs would survive the war. Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle was not one of them.
Since Pfc. Kenneth E. Schoeberle was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.