SmithWJ

 

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.  On February 10, 1941, his Minnesota National Guard Tank Company was called to federal service as 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.

    Arriving in the Philippines, the battalion was stationed at Ft. Stotsenburg.  Over the next two months, they prepared their tanks for use on maneuvers that were scheduled when the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, December 7th in the United States, the members of the 194th were informed by Lt. Col. Ernest Miller that Japan had bombed Pearl harbor ten hours earlier.  They were then ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.

    About 12:45 in the afternoon, planes approached the airfield from the north.  The soldiers began counting them believing that they were American planes.  It was when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.

    Bill spent the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.  On April 9, 1942, the order "crash" was given and the tankers destroyed their tanks.  They made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  It was from this barrio that William started what became known as the death march.

    The Prisoners of War made their way to San Fernando.  There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars.  These cars were used to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold eight horses of forty men, but the Japanese put 100 men in each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at San Fernando.

     Bill made his way to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino army base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp.  The situation in the camp was so bad that as many as fifty men died each day.  The living often lay in their own waste because they were too sick to move.  The death rate in the camp got so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp in hope of lowing the death rate among the POWs.

    Being considered a healthier POW, Bill was sent to the camp which was near Cabanatuan. Right after arriving in the camp, he was hospitalized, 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 15th 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 on a 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."

    When William's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila on October 10, 1944, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  He had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusan Maru, but since ship was ready to sail and one of the POW detachments had not arrived on time to be boarded, the Japanese swapped detachments so  the ship could sail.  With him on the ship were other members of A Company who also had been selected for transport to Japan.  

    William and 1805 other POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold.  Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks.  These bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up while lying in one.  Those POWs who were 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.  The floor of the hold was covered with human waste.

    On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa.  Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died.  The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days.  The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp. During the night, the POWs were in total darkness.  This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes.

    During the time off Palawan, the ship 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 cutoff the power.  Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's ventilation blowers into the lighting system.  This allowed fresh air into the hold.  The blowers were disconnected two days later when the Japanese discovered what had been done.

    The Japanese finally 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.  It appears that at this point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.

    The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th.  There, 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.  This made the ships targets for submarines.  The POWs in the hold were so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be torpedoed.

    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, a group of POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those POWs in the ship's two holds.  The ship was, in the Bashi Channel, off the coast of China.  Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard.  The men knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted.  The POWs 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, a second torpedo passed the ship's stern.  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.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.

    One of the Japanese guards took a machinegun and began firing at the POWs who were on deck.  To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them down.

    As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds, but since they did not tie down the hatch covers, some POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattach the ladders.  They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.

    The POWs were able climb out of the holds and get on deck.  At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship.  A group of 35 swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and hit 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, some 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.   At some point, the ship split in two.  The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.

    Five of the POWs found an abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, 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.

    Pvt. William J. Smith lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea.  Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking.  Eight of these men would survive the war.   His family did not learn of his death until October 24, 1945.  His  parents received official conformation of his death on October 24, 1945.

    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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next

 

 

Return to Company A