VanArsdell_G

 

1st Lt. George Alger Van Arsdall


     2nd Lt. George A. Van Arsdall was born on November 18, 1912, in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, to Riker Van Arsdall & Maude Rose-Van Arsdall.  He had four brothers and three sisters and was known as "Jimmy" to his friends and family.  George grew up at 108 North Greenville Street , Harrodsburg, and attended local schools .

    George joined the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard which was headquartered in an armory in Harrodsburg.  He worked as a farmer and married to Esther McNarmer and the couple became the parents of a daughter.  On November 25, 1940, his tank company was federalized as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.

    George with the company trained at Ft. Knox, Kentucky for nearly a year.  During this time he served as the company's mess officer, supply officer, and maintenance officer.  He married Esther Louise McNamer in Sommerset, New York, on November 3, 1940.  In early 1941, he was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was formed with men from the four letter companies of the battalion.

    After maneuvers in Louisiana in late 1941, George and the other men learned that they were not being released from federal duty as expected.  Instead, they were told that their time in the regular army had been extended from one to six years.  It was at this time that George was given the job of maintenance officer.
    The reason the battalion was being sent to the Philippines was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots - whose plane was lower than the others - noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, hundreds of miles to the northwest, which had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan and landed in the evening.
    Since it was too late to do anything that day, another squadron was sent to the area the next day, but the buoys had been picked up and a fishing boat was seen making its way to shore.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, no ship was sent to the area to intercept the boat.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion's medical detachment.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, 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 20th, 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.
   At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they had what they needed and 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.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
  Upon arrival at the fort, George was put into the hospital because he had developed tuberculosis.  
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, George and the other members of the battalion learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.  They were put on alert.  Around 12:45 in the afternoon, George lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.

    Being assigned to HQ, George most likely saw little or no front-line  action.  But, since there was no American Air Force, he lived through the constant strafing and bombing.  It was while George was fighting in the Philippines that he became a father when his wife gave birth to a son.

    At some point, George developed a lung infection.  It is not known how long he had it.  It is known that he assigned to headquarters company.

    George and the rest of HQ Company learned of the surrender from Capt. Fred Bruni.  They were told to destroy their weapons and wait.  They were now Prisoners of War.  Two days later, they were ordered out onto the road by the Japanese and told to kneel.

    As they knelt alongside the road, the Japanese took whatever they wanted from the soldiers.  They were then told to make their way south to Mariveles.  The members of HQ Company road trucks south to Mariveles.  They got out of the trucks and ordered to the airfield.  Once there, they were told to wait.

    As the soldiers stood facing the Japanese guards, it appeared that the Japanese were going to execute the prisoners.  Out of the car climbed a Japanese officer, the officer gave orders to the soldiers that they were not to kill the POWs.  After doing this, he got back into the car and it drove off.

    George and the other POWs were ordered to moved to a school yard where they were made to kneel in the sun without food or water. They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  The American guns on the island and at Ft. Drum began returning fire.  Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs.  The men had no place to hide and several were killed.  Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.

    It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that George began what would later become known as the Bataan Death March.  The first night the POWs were marched all night.  The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machine gun nest.  Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.

    George and the other POWs were lined up and marched all night the first night.  They marched for days and were told there would be food and water at the next stop; but these were lies to keep the prisoners going.  During every hour, the POWs received a five minute break.  The Japanese would change guards and keep the POWs moving.  

    What made things worse was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water.  The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells.  It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells.  This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.  

    The lack of food and water caused physical disabilities; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open.  If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed.

    As the prisoners marched, the guards promised them food and water at the next stop.  George went three days and nights without food or water.  At San Fernando, he and the other men were herded into pens.

    George and the other POWs were taken to a train station.  At the train station, they were packed into small freight cars and rode to Capas.  At Capas, they got out of the freight cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a death trap.  As many as fifty POWs died each day.  There was only one water faucet for 12,000 men.  As many as fifty POWs died each day.  Since there was no medicine, disease ran wild in the camp.  The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
    When the new camp at Cabanatuan opened George was sent there.  It was at this time that his wife gave birth to a son.  Camp medical records indicate that July 21, 1942, George was admitted to the camp hospital.  The records do not show why he was admitted to the hospital or when he was discharged.
    It should be noted that a month after George became a POW, his wife gave birth to a son.  In one of the seven POW cards that he was allowed to send home, he mentioned that he had received the photo of his son.

    At some point, George was selected to go out on the Nichols Airfield on the Las Pinas Work Detail.  With him was Capt. Edwin Rue. This detail quickly became known as a death detail because of the large number of POWs who died from being overworked and abused by the Japanese. 

    The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms.  30 POWs were assigned to a room.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war.  The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
    Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    At six A.M., the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again.  They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again.  Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
 

    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 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.
   
     

    When it became evident to the Japanese that American forces would soon be invading the Philippines, they began transferring large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries.  In late 1944, George was taken to Bilibid Prison.

    On December 12, 1944, roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called.  At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, George and the other POWs were awakened and marched to Pier 7 in Manila.  George boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. 

    The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports.  There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay.  When the POWs reached Pier 7,  it too was in disarray.  There were three ships docked at the pier.  One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape.  They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship
    It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down.  Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon.  They were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
     The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship's afthold.  Being the first on meant that they would suffer many deaths.  Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs.  The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out.  One survivor said, "The fist fights began when men began to pass out.  We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air."  The POWs who were closer to the hold's hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
    The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay.  At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming.  Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died.  One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind.  Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, "Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still.  One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, 'Have some of this chow? It's good.'  I smelled of it, it was not chow. 'All right'  he said, 'If you don't want it. I'm going to eat it.' And a little later I heard him eating it , right beside me."
    At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa.  The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay.  By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water.  The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air.  When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
    The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds.  Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for awhile.  When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
    As light began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died.  The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold, put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
    On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrap it off the wall for a drink.  The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds.  The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
    The POWs received their first meal at dawn.  Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three fourths of a cup of water was shared by 20 POWs.  It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns.  At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes.  It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
    At first it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy.  Commander Frank Bridgit, had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down.  He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, "I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side.  Now two more are detached from the formation.  I think they may be coming for us."
    The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes' engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy.  Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock  Explosions were taking place all around the ship.  In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them.  Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties.  .
    Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, "There's a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there.  Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there."  Barr would never reach Japan.  The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes.  When the planes were ran out of bombs they strafed.  Afterwards, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack.  This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
    In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship.  They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only .30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
    At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it.  It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern.  Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs.  During the attack Chaplain Cummings, a Catholic priest, led the POWs in the Our Father.  As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship.  Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul.  Somewhere on the ship a fire started, but it was put out after several hours.  The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset.  Overall, six bombs hit the ship.  One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
    At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east.  It turned south and turned again this time heading west.  The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M.  The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle.  What had happened is that the ship's had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
    Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship.  During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded.  One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
    The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped.  At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier.  The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night.  That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
    It was December 15th and the POWs sat in the ship's holds for hours after dawn.  The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water.  At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, "All go home; speedo!"  He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated.  Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, "Planes, many planes!"  As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack.  The ship bounced in the water from the explosions.  Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, "I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air."
    In the hold, the POWs crowded together.  Chips of  rust fell on them from the ceiling.  After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started.  In the hold a Catholic priest, Father Duffy, began to pray, "Father forgive them.  They know not what they do."
    The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship's captain remained on board.  He told the POWs - with his limited English - that they needed to get off the ship to safety.  The POWs made their way over the side and into the water.  As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
    Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs.  The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed.  The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs.  This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans.  About a half hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
    The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it.  The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot.  It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
    There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened up on them.   Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water, but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded.  There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
    The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach.  There, they were herded onto a tennis court.  The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end.  They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man.  When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack. 
    While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid.  Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck.  They were taken into the mountains and never seen again.
    The POWs were held on the tennis court from December 15th until December 20th.  During this time they received little to no food and water.  Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched the attacks.  The POWs watched the planes go into dives, release their bombs, and hit their targets.  Some of the planes dove over the POWs and released their bombs.  The POWs watched them float past the tennis courts and hit the intended target.
    Twenty-two trucks arrived the morning of December 20th, and the POWs were loaded into the trucks arriving at San Fernando, Pampanga, between four and five the next evening.  After they disembarked the trucks, they were housed in a dark movie theater.
    On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando. Pampanga.  The doors were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible.  From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and, later, on a beach at San Fernando, La Union.  During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water.  The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater.   Many of these men died.
    The remaining prisoners were returned to Manila where they boarded another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru, or the Brazil Maru, on December 27th.  On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds.  Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
    During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and dropped anchor, in the harbor, around 11:30 AM.  After arriving at Takao, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat.  This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942.
    During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water.  From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal  a day which resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise.  On January 6th, the POWs on the ship were transferred to the forward hold of the Oryoku Maru. The POWs began to receive two meals a day.
    The POWs on the ship were taken to Formosa.  There, the ship was tied to a buoy next another Japanese ship.  On January 9, 1945, the POWs had just eaten their first meal when American planes from the U. S. S. Hornet attacked the Enoura Maru.  Being next to another ship made it a desirable target.   During the attack, a bomb exploded in the hold Harley was being held in. The explosion killed and wounded over 438 of prisoners. 
    The dead remained in the hold for three days, until the Japanese organized a burial detail which put the bodies on a barge that took them to shore.  The POWs were too weak to lift the dead, so ropes were tied to the legs of the dead, and the bodies were dragged to shore and buried on a beach at Takao.
    According to information gathered by the U. S. Army after the war, 1st. Lt. George A. Van Arsdall died from wounds on Friday, January 12, 1945, after the attack of the Enoura Maru.  His body was taken to shore on a barge, and the POWs who were assigned to the detail took him ashore for burial.

    After the war, the remains of the American soldiers who died in the sinking of the Enoura Maru were exhumed, and he was reburied in the National Cemetery of the Pacific at the Punch Bowl in Hawaii as an unknown. 
   Since George's final resting place is unknown, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.

    It should be noted that according to the report filed by U.S. Recovery Team 9 on June 27, 1946, they were able to recover and identify the remains of 1st Lt. George A. Van Arsdall in a mass grave on Formosa.  The remains were next stored at Recovery Team 9's warehouse at Kiirun, Formosa, until the military made the decision on what would be done with them.  Since there was no second way to confirm the remains were actually those of Lt. George Van Arsdall, the remains were buried as "Unknown."
    His widow, Esther, moved to Harrodsburg, with her daughter and infant son, and raised him there, since she knew it was where George would have wanted him to be raised.  She never remarried.  A memorial headstone was placed at Springhill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.


 

 

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