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Boysen, Pvt. Adam T.

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Pvt. Adam T. Boysen was the son of Alfred B. Boysen and Gladdis Thayer-Boysen. He was born in June 1918 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Sometime between 1925 and 1930, Adam’s parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Arcadia, California. It is known that he graduated from Howe Military School in Long Beach, Indiana

Adam was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 28, 1941, in San Francisco and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington where he joined the 194th Tank Battalion. It is not known what duties he performed.

On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.

The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

In September 1941, the battalion, minus B Company, traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. From there, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, they were ferried to Fort McDowell on Angel Island and given physicals and inoculated. Men who had medical conditions were held back and replaced.

At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers were boarded onto the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge at 3:00 P.M. on Monday, September 8, 1941. The ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. the same day and arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, at 7:00 A.M. on Saturday, September 13. The soldiers were allowed ashore, but they had to be aboard ship two hours before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.

The ship took a southern route away from the normal shipping lanes and was escorted by the cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria. Several times smoke was seen on the horizon, and the cruiser took off in its direction. Each time it turned out the ship was friendly. Thirteen days later, after a stop at Guam, the ship arrived in Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. on September 26. The soldiers disembarked the ship at 3:00 P.M. and most rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg. Some remained behind to unload the tanks with the help of 17th Ordnance.

The morning of December 8, the tankers were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were then ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The entire morning, American planes filled the sky. At 12:30 the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch lining their planes up in a straight line outside the mess hall to be refueled. At 12:45. Philip and the other tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north and had time enough to count 54 planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.

The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Joaquin on the Malolos Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge. It would receive 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank. The battalion moved again to west and north of Rosario and was operating in an area north of the Agno River the night of December 22/23.

The tank battalions formed the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas defensive line the night of December 26/27. They were holding a new line at the Bamban River the night of December 29/30 and were at the Calumpit Bridge the next night. On January 5th, they were at Lyac Junction and dropped back to Remedios were a new defensive line was formed.

The night of January 6/7, the 194th withdrew over a bridge on the Culis Creek covered by the 192nd Tank Battalion and entered Bataan. The 192nd crossed the bridge before it was destroyed and entered Bataan.

The tank battalions were covering the East Coast Road on January 8. It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each and HQ Company with the 17th Ordnance Company were able to do long overdue maintenance on the tanks.

The tanks continued to cover withdraws for the rest of January and February. In March, HQ Company was recovering two tanks that had been bogged down in the mud when the Japanese entered the area. Lt. Col. Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point-blank range and ran from tank to tank directing the fire.

On April 4, the Japanese launched an all-out offensive at 3:00 P.M. and the tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. When it became apparent to Gen. Edward King that the situation was hopeless, he sent staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan on April 8.

When it became apparent to Gen. Edward King that the situation was hopeless and he wanted to prevent a massacre since he only 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight, while approximately 6,000 troops were hospitalized from wounds or disease. In addition, there were approximately 40,000 civilians. The night of April 8, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms with the Japanese.

The tank battalion commanders received this order on April 8: “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.”

The tankers received the order “crash” sometime between 6:30 and 6:45, in the morning, on April 9t, and destroyed anything that had military value for the Japanese. To destroy their tanks, they circled them, fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of each tank, opened the gasoline cocks in the crew compartments, and dropped hand grenades into them. Once this was done, they were ordered to Provisional Tank Group Headquarters and ordered to remain there.

Adam took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. At San Fernando, Adam and the other POWs were put into boxcars that could hold forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From this barrio, Adam walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell.

Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Camp which the Japanese pressed into service as a POW Camp. As many as fifty men died each day. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. Fred was sent to Cabanatuan, on June 1. The POWs formed detachments of 100 men and were marched to Capas, where they were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese guards. During the trip, at Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. They were marched to the new camp which had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division.

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 recaptured were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.

The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.

Information on Adam’s life as a POW is limited. It is known that he was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan for most of his time as a POW. It is not known what work details he went out on as a POW. In early October, Adam was selected to be sent to Japan and was taken to Manila.

On October 10, 1944, Adam boarded the Arisan Maru and was one of 1775 POWs who 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. Those standing 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.

Anton Cichy said, “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 together.”

Calvin Graef said about the conditions in the hold, “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 anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp so that during the night, the POWs were in total darkness. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes on Manila, but the ship was attacked by American planes after they had attacked the airfield 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 cut off the power. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship’s blowers into the power lines for 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 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 some 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 ship 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 which made the ships targets for submarines. In addition, the U.S. Military, which had broken the Japanese code, did not tell the submarine crews that POWs were on the ship. This was done to protect the secret. The POWs in the hold were so desperate that they prayed that torpedoes hit the ship.

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 were 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 seconds 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. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The Japs took the two lifeboats aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. 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. Overbeck, Baltimore.” Cichy added, “The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own.”

POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them 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 helluva 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.

Graef said, “Men without any fear at all, just stayed where they were. They sat down, got water to drink, got rice to eat…they couldn’t swim. The majority went down with the ship.”

According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the water. Some POWs walked back to see the damage caused by the torpedo. The deck was peeled back and water was inside the hold washing back and forth. When a wave went under the ship the stern would wobble up and down and the sound of steel tearing was heard. The stern finally tore off and sunk quickly. After that, the rest of the ship began to take on water quickly.

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, many POWs swam to a nearby Japanese destroyer put were pushed underwater with long poles. Of this, 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.”

In the water, he recalled. “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 lifeboat 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.”

Men were heard calling the names of other men in the dark. The next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other men were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa and finally sent to Japan. The next day the three men in the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom.

Of the 1775 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived its sinking, and only eight of these men survived the war. Pvt. Adam T. Boysen was not one of them. He was posthumously promoted to Tec 5.

His family learned of his death in June 1945. 

“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Boysen;

“The International Red Cross has transmitted to this government an official list obtained from the Japanese government, after long delay, of American prisoners of war who were lost while being transported northward from the Philippine islands on a Japanese ship which was sunk on Oct. 24, 1944.

“It is with deep regret that I inform you that your son was among those lost when the sinking occurred and, in the absence of any probability of survival, must be considered to have lost his life. He will be carried on records of the war department as killed in action Oct. 24, 1944. The evidence of his death was received June 16, 1945.

“It is with deep regret that I inform you that your son, Pvt. Adam T. Boysen, 39, 005, 200, 194th Tank Battalion, was among those lost when that sinking occurred and, in the absence of any probability of survival, must be considered to have lost his life. He will be carried on the records of the War Department as Killed in Action 24 October 1944. The evidence of this death was received 16 June 1945, the date upon which his pay will terminate and accounts will be closed.

“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.

“It is with deep regret that I must notify you of this unhappy culmination of the long period of anxiety and suffering you have experienced. You have my heartfelt sympathy.

“Sincerely yours,

“J. A. Ulio
“Maj. Gen., The Adjutant General of the Army”

Since he was lost at sea, T/5 Adam T. Boysen’s name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. 

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