Pvt. WIlliam John Smith
Pvt. William J. Smith was born in 1916 to Matt &
Louise Smith. With his sister, he was raised at 309
Quince Street in Brainerd, Minnesota. He was known
as "Bill" to his family and friends. At some
point, he joined the Minnesota National Guard in Brainerd
and on February 10, 1941, was called to federal service as
a member of A Company, 194th Tank Battalion.
For the next six months the battalion trained at Fort Lewis, Washington. In September 1941, the battalion received orders for overseas duty. They traveled by train to San Francisco and sailed for the Philippine Islands.
In the late summer of 1941, the 194th received orders for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters were flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots -whose plane was lower than the others - noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, located hundreds of miles to the northwest. The island which had a large radio transmitter on it. The planes continued their flight plan south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.
When the squadron landed that evening, the pilot reported what he had seen, but it was too late to deal with it that evening. The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area, but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication was poor between the Air Corps and Navy, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
It is not known where John trained and when he joined the 194th Tank Battalion, but it is very likely he joined the battalion at Ft. Lewis or at Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island in California. The battalion was there preparing to sail for the Philippine Island, and he was assigned to the battalion as a tank platoon commander.
The soldiers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge at 3:00 P.M. and at 9:00 P.M. on September 8, 1941, the tank battalion sailed. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, at 7:00 A.M. on Saturday, September 13. The soldiers were allowed off ship, but they needed to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M. After it sailed, it took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria , and an unknown destroyer. Several times during this part of the voyage smoke was seen on the horizon. Each time, the cruiser revved its engines and took off in the direction of the smoke. All the ships it intercepted belonged to friendly countries.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date became Thursday, September 18. On Friday, September 26, the ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and where taken by bus to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion's maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with 17th Ordnance, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks' turrets which had been removed so the tanks would fit in the ship's hold.
Upon arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. On November 15, the battalion moved into their new barracks.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
The morning of December 8, the officers were called together and told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the crew members of each tank and half-track were ordered to the north end of Clark Airfield. Their job was to engage Japanese paratroopers.
All morning long the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers saw planes approaching the airfield from the north. They debated that the planes were American bombers and had time enough to count 54 planes in formation. When bombs began exploding on the airfield, they knew the planes were Japanese.
On December 22, they were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. There, they engaged the Japanese. The Japanese attempted to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge, over the Pampanga River, about withdrawing from the bridge and half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.
The night of January 5, the tank battalion was holding a position near Lubao. It was about 2:00 in the morning when one of the battalionâ€™s outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be Japanese. When they attacked, the Japanese were mowed down by the guns of the tanks. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located. They then charged toward the tanks, through an open field, and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. Once the 192nd crossed the bridge, the engineers destroyed it ending the Battle of Luzon.
January 8, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver , "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor. Wainwright ignored this suggestion.
On April 3, at 3:00 P.M., the Japanese lunched a major offensive with fresh troops brought in from the Dutch East Indies and the Singapore. The main battle line was pushed back far enough that the Japanese long range artillery could shell the rear area. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew.
Gen. Edward King announced at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6,000 sick and wounded and 40,000 civilians. He also estimated that less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and would hold out for one more day. He ordered his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender. After word was received of the surrender, the members of HQ Company remained in their bivouac until the
It was at this time that the tank battalion commanders received this order : "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
At 7:00 A.M. on April 10, the Japanese made contact with the 194th which had gathered at the Provisional Tank Group's headquarters. They were now Prisoners of War. At 7:00 P.M., the POWs were ordered to go out on the road near their bivouac. The members of the battalion were marched from 7:00 P.M until 3:00 A.M., when they were allowed to rest. At 4:00 A.M., they started the march again.
For the members of the battalion, the first part of the march was actually not bad. The Japanese soldiers were combat veterans and viewed the Americans as combat veterans. Many actually asked them why they had surrendered and believed they should have continued fighting.
The POWs reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M. on April 11 and were allowed to look for food. They again started marching at 9:00 A.M. and made their way to Limay by noon. It was at this barrio that anyone with the rank of major, or higher, was separated from the enlisted men. Once this was done, these officers were driven, in trucks, to Orani, where they were put in a bull pen on April 12, which they could smell the enclosure before they got to it. Once inside of it, they were ordered to sit. They had no idea that they were sitting in human waste. In the corner of the enclosure was a trench for the POWs to use as a washroom. It was at this barrio that the lower ranking officers and enlisted men would be reunited with the high ranking officers.
The death march for the members of the 194th the death march really started at Limay. When they arrived there, the Japanese changed guards. These new guards were not combat troops. They also expected the POWs to move at a faster pace and did not care about their physical condition.
The night of April 11 the POWs were marching again. The Japanese provided no water to the POWs. Since it was dark, men were able to fill their canteen cups at artesian wells since the guards could not see them. At a small barrio, Filipinos appeared with buckets of water for the POWs. The Filipinos were gone by the time the guards arrived to see what was going on among the POWs.
The POWs were left in the compound for the day, and there was no cover from the sun that beat down on them. The Japanese gave enough water to the men to wet their tongues. The POWs did not know it, but they were receiving the sun treatment. Some men went out of their heads and drifted into comas.
At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lurao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
The men were marched until 4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
The POWs were awakened at 4:00 A.M. and ordered to form columns again. They were marched to the train depot in the barrio. At the depot they were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as "Forty or Eights" since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they 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 Japanese lieutenant.
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. The transfer of POWs was completed on June 4.
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 Brothers.
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 they returned.
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 died. Right after arriving in the camp, Bill was hospitalized on June 7, 1942, suffering from malaria and a hernia. He remained in the hospital for six months before being discharged on Tuesday, December 7, 1942. He was hospitalized a second time on December 15 suffering from beriberi and malaria. It is not known when he was discharged.
Bill spent most of his time as a POW in this camp. It is known that Bill went out as a replacement on the work detail to Nichols Airfield to build runways. The detail was known as the Las Pinas Detail, and the POWs on the detail were abused by the Japanese. Several POWs were killed by the guards while there were rumors others had committed suicide.
On the detail, the POWs were expected to tear down the side of a mountain to build the largest runway in the Pacific. They did this with picks and shovels while other POWs, teams of two, pushed small hopper cars and dumped the rubble in a designated area.
The POWs were housed at the Pasay School which was about a mile from the airfield. Each morning, the POWs were expected to get up and do calisthenics, eat, and march a mile to the airfield. They removed hills, to build a runway, with picks and shovels. The dirt from the hills were put into mining cars and pushed to a swamp and used as landfill.
On this detail, the POWs had nothing but picks and shovels to build the runways. At first the work was hard but not as hard as it was going to get. About 400 yards from where they began working where hills. The POWs removed these hills with picks and shovels. The dirt was put into wheel barrows and carried to a swamp and dumped as landfill. This turned out to be inefficient, so the Japanese brought in mining cars and railroad track. Two POWs pushed each car to where it was to be dumped. He would remain on this detail for almost seventeen months.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The American captain told the other Americans what had happened. The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf." He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The welfare of the POWs was of no concern to the Japanese. They only concern they had was getting the runway built. If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and select men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury. Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work.
In particular, "the Wolf" was was hardest to convince that a man was sick. If a man's arm or leg was bandaged, he would kick the man's leg, in the spot it was bandaged, and see how the man reacted. If the man showed a great deal of pain, he was not required to work. In one case, a man whose broken wrist was in a splint, was twisted by the Wolf while the man trembled in pain.
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were working, they saw American diver bombers. This was the first time they had seen American planes since the surrender of Bataan. Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused the POWs to cheer. The next day the detail was ended. Forrest and the other prisoners were sent to Bilibid Prison to prepare for transport to Japan. In his own words, "The Yank planes followed us all the way from the Philippines. Shortly after we left Los Banos in September 1944, the yanks moved in; we got to Formosa and the big fellows came over, and finally they were over Tokyo itself."
As American forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer large number of POWs to other parts of their empire. When Martin's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila, on October 2, 1944, they were scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru, which was ready to sail, but the entire detachment had not arrived at the pier. Another detachment of POWs was waiting for their ship to be ready to sail, so the Japanese flipped the POW detachments so that the Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 10, 1775 POWs were put on the Arisan Maru and packed into the ship's number one hold which could hold 400 men. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks which were so close together that a man could not lift himself up while lying down. Those standing also had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans. Since the POWs were packed into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans. Anton Cichy stated , "For the first few days, there were 1800 of us together in one hold. I don't know how big the hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck there." Calvin Graef said , "We were packed in so tight most men couldn't get near the cans. And, of course, it was a physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with lice, bedbugs and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description."
On October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. The ship was anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp during the night which left the POWs were in total darkness. Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes on Manila. At some point, the ship was attacked by American planes returning from a bombing mission on Palawan.
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 lighting system which brought fresh air into the hold for two days. When the Japanese found out what the POWs had done, they power was turned off the power.
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.
Of this time, Graef said , "As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under these conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty five gallon tins of fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked the cloth dry. Men licked their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
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 torpedoes.
Graef described the deaths of the POWs hold. "There were so many (that died) out 1800. The conditions in the hold.....men were just dying in a continuous stream. Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died. You were being starved, men wee dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like you were choking to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard."
Cichy said , "The Japs told us that they'd be in Formosa the next day to pick up some cargo. They had to make room on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one but didn't think anything about it." It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24, and each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice. Ten POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's holds. The waves were high since the ship had been through a storm in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded warning of submarines. The POWs in the holds chanted for the submarine to sink the ship.
At about 4:50 P.M., about half the POWs had been fed. As the POWs, on deck, watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a torpedo passed in front of it. 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.
At first the POWs cheered wildly until they realized they were facing death. Cichy recalled , "When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!' We wanted to get it over with." Lt. Robert S. Overbeck recalled , "When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and weak and sick." He also said , "The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn't break in two." Overbeck also commented on the reaction of the POWs in the holds . "For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips--300 of them on deck--were scurrying about, scared as hell. The boilers exploded. I don't think any of us got hurt in the torpedoing or the explosion. The Japs took the two lifeboats aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. That was about 5:00 P.M." It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was either the U.S.S. Snook or U.S.S. Shark .
The guards began to beat the POWs on deck with their guns to chase them back into the holds. Once they had, they put the hatch covers on the hatches, but because they had been ordered to abandon ship, never tied them down. Cichy said , "The Japs closed the hatched and left the ship in lifeboats. They must of forgot about the prisoners on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches and told us to come up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of the guys down below. One of them escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S. Overback, Baltimore." Cichy added , "The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own."
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." Overbeck also stated , "We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the destroyers, had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down the hold the day before.
"But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not tell who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been carrying Jap troops. The men were brave and none complained.
"Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry 'so long' disappeared." The ship slowly sank lower in 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. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking. Some POWs attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, rafts, and other flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them away with poles. Glenn Oliver said , "They weren't picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were swimming for the destroyer, but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water."
Oliver recalled , "I could see people still on the ship when it went down. I could see people against the skyline, just standing there." In the water, he watched as the ship went under. "I kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I didn't ask them."
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. Oliver, who was not in the boat, stated he heard men using what he called "GI whistles" to contact each other. "They were blowing these GI whistles in the night. This weird moaning sound. I can't describe it." The next morning there were just waves. Olvier and three other POWs were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa. They later were sent by ship to Japan. The men in the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom. Pvt. William J. Smith was not one of them.
His parents received official conformation of his death on October 24, 1945, when they received this message: "The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11, 1944, with 1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the south China Sea over 200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners escaped in a small boat and reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the Japanese by whom all others aboard are reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened to the other individual prisoners and known circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all other prisoners listed by the Japanese as aboard the vessel perished."
Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. William J. Smith's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
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