Major Charles S. Canby was born on July 23, 1895, in Saint Joseph, Missouri. He was the son of Charles B. Canby & Josephine Spencer-Canby and grew up in St. Joseph.
It is known that Canby fought in the Mexican Border War. On June 1, 1917, he joined the Missouri National Guard. He remained in the National Guard until April 29, 1918, when he was called to federal duty and fought in France in WOrld War I. When the war ended, he returned to the National Guard on June 5, 1919. At first, he made his living as a high school teacher but later changed careers and worked as a financial agent at a financial agency.
During Canby’s time in the National Guard, he rose in rank. On December 1, 1924, he became a 1st Lieutenant. He was promoted to Captain on August 1, 1936. He later became the commanding officer of the 35th Tank Company of the Missouri National Guard
On February 10, 1941, Canby’s Missouri National Guard Tank Company was called to federal duty as B Company, 194th Tank Battalion. It was at that time that he was promoted to captain and remained in command of the company. The company was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for training. In June 1941, Canby was made commanding officer HQ Company. He would later become the battalion’s executive officer.
The battalion trained at Ft. Lewis and in August 1941, the battalion took part maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis. It was there that they learned they were being sent overseas because of an event that happened earlier that year.
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 was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. Arriving by train at Ft. Masin in San Francisco, the company was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men who failed the physical were replaced.
On September 8, 1941, the battalion was boarded onto the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. The ship sailed the same day. The battalion arrived at Hawaii on September 13th, remained in port most of the day, and sailed later in the day, but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes, where it was joined by the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer.
During the voyage, on several occasions, smoke from unknown ships was seen on the horizon. The cruiser revved up its engines and intercepted the ships. On each occasion, it turned out that the ship belonged a friendly country.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18. On September 26, they arrived at Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., but did not reach Manila until later in the morning. The soldiers did not disembark until 3:00 P.M. The maintenance section of the battalion helped 17th Ordnance unload the tanks and reattach the turrets which took until the next morning.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed. They were met by Gen. Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed. On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
On December 1, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On December 8, December 7 in the United States, Canby lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. He managed to send a telegram home on December 17 in which he said, “all Missouri men are safe and well.” The 194th was ordered to Mabalacat after the attack and Charles and the rear echelon of the battalion remained behind at the battalion’s barracks. During this time his concern was that his men and he were sitting ducks if the Japanese bombed and strafed. He wanted the read echelon to be moved from the barracks area and said to Major Miller. “It’s got to be done. I’ve been holding my breath for fear the Japs will be moving in to bomb the area.”
He spent the next four months fighting the Japanese. At one point, he was assigned the job of collecting ammunition and gasoline. His detail managed to bring 12,000 gallons of gasoline into Bataan for the tanks to use. In addition, the tankers recovered six truckloads of food. On December 24, 1941, he was promoted to major.
On April 3, at 3:00 P.M., the Japanese launched a major offensive with fresh troops brought in from the Dutch East Indies and Singapore. The line was pushed back far enough that the Japanese long-range artillery could shell the rear area. It was at this time that Gen. Edward King made the decision further resistance would be futile, so he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms. His decision was based on the reality that only 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight and would last one more day. In addition, he had 6,000 troops hospitalized because of illness or wounds. There also were 40,000 Filipino civilians that he believed would be massacred if he did not surrender his troops. At 11;40 the ammunition dumps were blown up.
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.”
The morning of April 9 somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M., the order “crash” was given. This meant the tank battalions were to destroy their tanks and any other equipment that had military value to the Japanese. At 7:00 A.M., Canby became a Prisoner of War.
HQ Company was ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2. At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march. They made their way from the former command post, and at first, found the walk difficult. When they reached the main road, walking became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher were separated from the enlisted men and the lower-ranking officers. The higher-ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
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 a 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 Lubao. 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 bullpen, 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.
At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
From Capas the POWs walked 8 kilometers, to Camp O’Donnell, arriving in the camp on April 14, 1942. The camp was an unfinished Filipino military camp that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. The Japanese estimated that the camp could hold from 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When the men arrived at the camp they were searched and those found to have any Japanese items on them were separated from the other POWs and accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. They were taken to the guardhouse and held there until they were taken to an area southeast of the camp and shot.
The other POWs had any extra clothing taken away from them and the Japanese did not return it to them. Since there was no water available for washing clothes, since the POWs could not bathe and their clothing became soiled, they threw it away. They also stripped the dead of their clothing before they were buried. Most of those who were ill and in the camp hospital had little to no clothing. In addition, there was no water to wash the mess kits.
The only water in the camp came from one spigot which the Japanese guards would arbitrarily turn off. If it was turned off, the next man in line for a drink could wait as long as 4 hours for it to be turned on again. The average wait for one drink of water was from 2½ to 8 hours. For cooking rice, the water was carried from a river located 3 miles from the camp. The Japanese installed a second water spigot which made things better.
The POW bathrooms were slit trenches which quickly overflowed since most of the POWs had dysentery or diarrhea. Flies from the latrines were everywhere in the camp including the kitchens and on the food which caused disease to spread.
The camp hospital had no soap or disinfectant. When senior-ranking American doctor wrote a letter to the Japanese commandant of the camp, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, stating the medical supplies he needed, he was told never to write another letter, and that the only thing that he wanted from the hospital were the names and serial numbers of the dead.
When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross offered a 150-bed hospital for the POWs in the camp, a Japanese second lieutenant slapped him in the face. When the Catholic Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medicine to the camp, the Japanese turned the truck away. Medicine sent by the Philippine Red Cross was appropriated by the Japanese for use on their troops. The medical staff at the hospital did surgery with mess kit knives since there were no medical supplies. For every six medics assigned to work in the hospital, only one man was healthy enough to perform all his duties.
The death rate in the camp rose to 50 men dying each day. Each morning, the POWs collected the bodies of the dead, which were found all around the camp and carried them to the camp hospital. There, the bodies were placed under the hospital awaiting burial which usually took two to three days. To clean the dirt under the hospital, the POWs moved the dead, scrapped the ground and spread lime on the soil. They moved the bodies back into the area and repeated the process where the bodies had lain while they were cleaning the other area.
A burial detail worked daily to bury the dead. Two POWs carried a body, in a sling to the camp cemetery and placed it in a shallow grave. The graves were shallow because the water table was high, and as they dug the graves, the graves would quickly start to fill with water. To hold the body down in the grave a POW used a pole while the other men threw dirt on the body.
Daily work details left the camp to cut firewood for the POW kitchen and to perform other duties for the Japanese. Long term work details also were sent out, and many of the POWs volunteered to go out on them so that they could escape the camp.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so the opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The morning of June 1, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched out of the camp to Capas. As the POWs marched, the Filipinos gave them small bundles of food. The Japanese guards did not stop the Filipinos. At Capas, the POWs were put in steel boxcars and rode the train to Calumpit, where it was switched to the track to Cabanatuan.
The POWs disembarked the train and were put into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. Afterward, they marched to Cabanatuan POW Camp. The new camp had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army and was previously known as Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three separate camps. Camp #1 was where those men who had been POWs at Camp O’Donnell were sent. Camp #2 was four miles away from Camp 1, and because of its water problem closed quickly. It was later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp #3 was six miles from Camp 2 and later housed the POW from Corregidor, from the hospitals on Bataan, and those who had been at Camp 2. These POWs were generally in better shape than the men who had taken part in the march. Frank was assigned to Barracks 10 at Camp 1.
Details at Camp 1 went out daily to cut wood for the camp kitchens, plant rice, and farm. Each morning, when the POWs lined up for roll call, it was common practice, of the Japanese guards, to kick the POWs in their shins with their hobnailed boots. They also, for no apparent reason, frequently hit the POWs, as they stood at attention, with a pick handle as they counted off.
The POWs who went out on the rice planting detail had to get their tools from a tool shed. As they left the shed, it was the common practice of the guards, to hit the POWs, on the top of their heads. If a guard on the detail decided that a POW was not working hard enough, he was beaten. They also would push the man’s face into the mud and stepped on his head to force it down deeper. The POWs returning from the details often were able to smuggle food, medicine, and tobacco into the camp.
The POWs were underfed and the typical meal was 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. This resulted in many becoming ill since they could not fight off illnesses. The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards which each holding 40 men. It was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each ward had two tiers of bunks with the sickest POWs lying on the lower bunk. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. A hole was cut into the platforms so that those suffering from dysentery could relieve themselves without leaving the tier.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
Zero Ward, which is where those who had little or no hope of recovering, were sent. It got its name because it was missed when the wards were being counted. The ward held those POWs who had little to no chance of leaving the hospital alive. Most of those who died, died because their bodies were too weak to fight the disease because of malnutrition. The Japanese were so afraid of becoming ill from being near the building that they put up a fence around it and would not go near it.
The Japanese needed 1000 POWs to go on a detail to Davao in October 1942. On October 24, the POWs were marched to the barrio of Cabanatuan, loaded onto boxcars, and sent by train to Manila arriving in the afternoon. During the trip, the doors of the boxcars were left open so there was ventilation. When they arrived at Manila, they remained in the boxcars until after dark when they were marched through the empty streets to Bilibid Prison. Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice.
The next day they were assembled in 100 men formations and marched to the Port Area of Manila where they boarded the Erie Maru. The hold was divided into box spaces and twelve men were assigned to each box. There was only enough room in a box for six men to sleep at a time. The POWs quickly became infested with bedbugs and lice. The hold smelled from the gasoline that was being stored in it and quickly was joined by the smell of human excrement.
The next morning the POWs were fed rice and spinach soup. At noon, they received rice and dried fish. For dinner, they had corned beef and rice. The POWs assigned to cooking discovered the Japanese officers had a large stock of captured American pork and slipped it to the men in the holds which resulted in many of the POWs developing dysentery.
The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo, Panay, and Cebu, Mindanao. At Iloilo, they buried one man who had died. The POWs arrived at Lansang on November 7.
When they arrived at the camp, the POWs were in such bad shape that the ranking Japanese officer, Major Mida, ordered them fed. They ate pork and beef, rice cabbage pinch, squash onions, potatoes, and peanuts which were all produced on the farm. From the orchards, they were given fruit which included raw and cooked plantains. The sick were given medical treatment and there was enough water for drinking, bathing, and laundry. When the recuperation took too long, their diet was cut to rice and greens soup.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor, and the American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
There were various details. 30 men were assigned to work as carpenters, 25 POWs worked in the orchards, 50 POWs made rope, 20 POWs worked the bodega (storeroom) detail, and for four months the POWs cut and picked coffee. There were smaller details that took from 2 to 35 men that lasted weeks or months, while other details were continuous, such as the farm detail that 250 to 300 POWs worked on plowing fields and harvesting crops.
50 to 100 POWs were sent to a plantation and given the job of building roads. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. The Japanese decided that they were getting nowhere, so they sent the POWs to the ricefields to plant rice.
350 to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields and were responsible for planting 1600 acres of rice. The POWs attempted to grow as little rice as possible and would drop the rice stalks in the mud and “unintentionally” step on them. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
When harvesting the rice, the POWs would “miss” the collection baskets spilling the rice onto the ground. At the threshing machine, the POWs made sure that as much of the rice as possible was blown away with the chaff. They would also “forget” to push the rice carts into the warehouse when it rained which caused the rice to get moldy. Although they did these things, most of the rice still made it to the warehouse. Once piled inside, the prisoners often poked holes into the roof directly above the rice. When it rained, the rice would get wet and moldy.
The one good thing that happened to the POWs on this detail was that they were given Red Cross packages. The medicine in the packages also helped to bring the number of cases of malaria and dysentery under control.
At first, the work details were not guarded as the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs, who could not do this work, made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. The treatment the POWs at this time changed. Those POWs working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, and there were misunderstandings between the POWs and guards. In addition, the translator could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Some POWs were sent to a plantation and given the job of building a road. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. Other men worked in a quarry that contained a great deal of coral that cut their feet. What they dug out went to build the road. The Japanese decided that they were getting nowhere, so they sent the POWs to the ricefields to plant rice.
Beatings were common and usually, the guards slapped the POWs in their faces. On occasion, there were severe beatings. This occurred if the Japanese suspected the POWs were planning an escape.
The POWs were still receiving three meals – which were measured down with a sardine tin – a day and received one water buffalo a week but they were being worked harder and longer. At times, after the POWs had slaughtered the water buffalo and had it ready to cook, the Japanese made them bury it. From October 1, 1942, until March 1, 1944, rations were reduced often as a punishment.
After the escape of Capt. William Dyess, LTC Melvyn McCoy, Maj. Stephen Mellnik, Maj. Michael Dobervitch, and another POW on April 4, 1943, the 600 remaining POWs from their barracks were moved to another compound and had their rations reduced, they were confined to quarters, and they were abused. During the day, they were not allowed to sit down. The Japanese commanding officer ordered and allowed collectives punishment on all the POWs. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep.
When two other POWs escaped, 22 other POWs were confined to the guardhouse for ten days. They were made to stand at attention all day in the cells. The cells were eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide. Eleven prisoners were put into each cell. At night they were beaten with sticks when they attempted to lie down. They were fed one meal a day of rice with a little salt.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong. The barracks of the POWs were only 400 yards from the airfield. The POWs believed this was done so if American planes attacked, they would kill their own countrymen. 550 POWs either built runways or were sent to a quarry to mine coral for runways. The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it onto trucks that were driven to the airfield. When the POWs slowed the pace of their work down, the Japanese resorted to torture to get them to work.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindanao, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship’s front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao, for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25.
After arriving at Manila, Canby was sent to Bilibid Prison. While he was there, he visited Pvt. Zoeth Skinner, of the 194th, who was sick at Bilibid and in isolation.
In late 1944, when it became apparent to the Japanese that the invasion of the Philippines was near, most of the POWs on this detail were sent to the Port Area of Manila. The Japanese were attempting to send the healthy POWs to Japan, and other countries, to work as slave labor and prevent them from being liberated by advancing American forces.
In early October 1944, 1775 POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila. When his POW group arrived at the pier, the ship they were scheduled to sail on, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the pier. Another POW detachment, scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail. It was at that time that the Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 10, the POWs boarded the ship and 1775 prisoners were crammed into the ship’s first hold which could hold 400 men. They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Those POWs who had lain down in the wooden bunks along the haul could not sit up because the bunks were so close together. Eight large cans served as the latrines for the POWs.
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.”
Later in the day on October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp so, during the night, the POWs were in total darkness. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes on Manila, but the ship was attacked once by American planes returning from a bombing mission on the airfield 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 hot-wire the ship’s blowers into the light power lines. This allowed fresh air into the hold until the power was disconnected, two days later, when the Japanese discovered what had been done.
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.
The ship 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 were just 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 took their rifles and used them as clubs to drive the POWs on deck into the holds. Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over the holds, but they did not tie the hatch covers down. Cichy recalled, “The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have 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 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.”
They also dropped rope ladders to the POWs in the second hold. The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck. Glenn Oliver, who was a member of the 194th, recalled that he saw Canby leading a group of prisoners in prayer and was about to join them when the hatch cover was pulled off the hatch opening and ropes were dropped into it, so he decided to leave the hold instead. It is not known if Canby left the hold since Oliver never mentioned seeing him again.
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. Eight of these men survived the war. Maj. Charles S. Canby was not one of them.
It is not known if he died in the hold before the ship was sunk, or if he died when the Japanese refused to rescue the POWs. It is known that his family received this message:
“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Canby;
“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, Maj. Charles S. Canby, O, 182, 074, 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.
“J. A. Ulio
“Maj. Gen., The Adjutant General of the Army”
Since he was lost at sea, Maj. Charles S. Canby’s name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.