Pvt. Anton Ervin Cichy was born on February 18, 1914, to John P. Cichy & Emelia Klimek-Cichy in Urbank, Minnesota. With his three brothers and three sisters, he grew up in both Newton Township, Otter Tail County, Minnesota. He worked as a laborer in road construction and married Arlence Julia Lillis. The couple lived at RFD #1 New York Mills, Minnesota, and became the parents of a son in November 1941.
Anton registered for Selective Service on October 16, 1940, when the draft act became law. He was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1941 and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. There, he was assigned to HQ Company, 194th Tank Battalion to fill-out the company’s roster. The company had been with National Guardsmen from the three companies of the battalion.
In September 1941, Anton’s battalion was ordered to San Francisco and arrived on September 4 at 7:30 A.M. at Ft. Mason. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island. There, they were inoculated and given physicals on Angel Island by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
The decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. 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 which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship’s holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer, that were its escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets.
Since the commanding officer of the installation, General Edward King, had not received advanced warning of the arrival of the units, the tankers found themselves living in tents along the main road between Ft. Stotsenburg and Clark Airfield. 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. They did not move into their barracks until November 15.
The description of the barracks was that from the floor, the barrack’s walls were open with screening going up three feet from the bottom of the outside walls. Above that, the walls were woven bamboo that allowed the air to pass through them. Bathroom facilities appeared to be limited and a man was considered lucky if he washed by a faucet with running water.
The workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. and from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. The belief was it was too hot to work after that time. After 2:30, the tankers took part in “recreation in the motor pool” which meant they worked to 4:30. Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them with blindfolds on. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies at the base theater. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw a football around to pass the time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming.
Activities outside the base were available and they also went to Mt. Aarayat National Park and swam in the swimming pool there that was filled with mountain water. The men were allowed to go to Manila in small groups. They also went to canoeing at Pagsanjan Falls in their swimsuits and described the country was described as being beautiful.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th guarded the north end of the runway and the 192nd guarded the south end. Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On December 8, 1941, Tony lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. The soldiers had heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At 12:15 the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. Fifteen minutes later, the soldiers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. The soldiers counted the planes and commented on how pretty they looked. It was only when bombs began to hit the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
Tony ran to a nearby trench, but it was already filled with men. As he ran to hide under a tank, bombs exploded around him. Bullets hit the ground around him as he was strafed by the pilots who were attempting to kill him. After the attack, he witnessed the carnage done by the planes.
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 on December 12. 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 the north of the Agno River on the night of December 22/23.
On December 26, his tank platoon was given the duty of holding the bank along the Agno River while Filipino and American forces crossed the river. During this duty, he and other tankers wiped out over 500 Japanese troops who had attempted to cross the river. They also were under constant bombardment by Japanese artillery and mortars. After the tankers disengaged, they fought their way through the barrio of Carmen.
On December 28, Tony’s platoon was given the duty of holding the Calumpit Bridge so that Filipinos and Americans could once again withdraw from the area. They were again under heavy shelling.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
On the night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio, and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that 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 tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
With his company, he destroyed his tank. That morning two Japanese officers, who spoke perfect English, arrived at the bivouac and told the Americans to remain there until ordered to move. Two days later, he made his way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. From this barrio, he started what became known as “the death march.”
In remembering the march he said, “The march was seven days with nothing to eat and very little water to drink.”
During the march, Tony witnessed POWs beaten for no reason. He and the other POWs were denied food and water for no apparent reason. At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. The dead remained standing until the living disembarked the cars at Capas. From there, he walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the dead were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had been laying was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In May, his family received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. E. Cichy:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Anton E. Cichy, 37,025,177, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of POWs was completed on June 4.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The 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. The poor diet resulted in the POWs becoming malnourished which made them susceptible to disease which caused many to die.
When the camp opened, Tony was sent to the camp. After he arrived he recalled, “One of our guys tried to escape the first day. They caught him and broke every bone in his body, then broke his head open so his brains spilled out. Then they made us walk by and look at him. It seemed like there were killings every day.”
The barracks in the camp were built to hold 50 POWs, but it wasn’t unusual for 60 to 120 POWs to be assigned to a barracks. The POWs slept on bamboo strips without bedding, covers, or mosquito netting. This resulted in many of them becoming ill.
On June 18, 1942, he was sent to “Zero Ward” – which was the camp hospital – with malaria. The hospital was given the name since it had been missed when the barracks were being counted. As it turned out, most of those POWs sent there had little to no chance of ever leaving alive.
In July 1942, the family received a second message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Anton E. Cichy had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
It is not known how long her there, but records kept by the medical staff indicate that he was released and returned to duty. He was readmitted to the hospital on Thursday, January 25, 1943; no illness or date of release was recorded. He was again admitted on Sunday, March 28, 1943. Again, no reason for his admittance or date of discharge was given.
During his time in the camp, Anton recalled, “We cultivated a darn nice garden there. But the Japs wouldn’t let us eat very much of the stuff. Some of it even rotted in the ground.” Commenting on his weight loss, he said, “I could close my fingers around the bone in my leg.”
He also recalled that two POWs escaped and were recaptured. “They got away but the Japs caught up with them. Sixteen Jap guards lined the two men up outside our barracks and shot them. We watched the whole thing. The Japs had it planned that way.”
Tony went out on a work detail to build runways at an airfield. What is known about his time on the detail is that he became ill and was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison. According to records kept by the staff, he was admitted on July 29, 1944, suffering from gastritis, and discharged on August 7. The records also show he was returned to what was called “The Army Air Group.”
One of Anton’s happier memories was of the first time American planes appeared over the prison on September 21, 1944. “We practically pushed the walls barracks watching the fliers coming in. We were cheering – not too loud, just kind of snickering. The Japs were jittery as hell and we didn’t want to get ’em jittery with their guns.”
As American forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer a large number of POWs to other parts of their empire. When Anton’s group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila, on October 2, 1944, they were scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru, which was ready to sail, but the entire detachment had not arrived at the pier. Another detachment of POWs was waiting for their ship, the Arisan Maru, to be ready to sail, so the Japanese flipped the POW detachments so that the Hokusen Maru could sail.
Nearly 1775 POWs were put on the Arisan Maru and packed into the ship’s number one hold which could hold 400 men. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks which were so close together that a man could not lift himself up while lying down. Those standing also had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five-gallon cans. Since the POWs were packed into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans.
Cichy stated, “For the first few days there were 1800 of us together in one hold. I don’t know how big the hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck there.” Calvin Graef said, “We were packed in so tight most men couldn’t get near the cans. And, of course, it was a physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with lice, bedbugs, and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description.”
On October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. The ship 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 on Manila, but the ship was later attacked by American planes returning from a bombing mission on the airfield on Palawan. During this time, Tony received two balls of rice – the size of chicken eggs – to eat.
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 turned off the power. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship’s blowers into the power lines. 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. Tony found himself in a 22 foot by 22-foot space which was three feet high. “It was so crowded we couldn’t stretch out. “
The ship returned to Manila on October 20. There, 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. This made the ships targets for submarines. The POWs in the hold were so desperate that they prayed that the ship would be hit by torpedoes and sunk.
Tony recalled, ” The Japs told us we would 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 I didn’t think of anything about it.”
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on October 24, 1944, about 5:00 PM, some POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship’s two holds. The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel. Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard. The men inside the holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted. The POWS began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship. The POWs in the hold could hear the torpedoes in the water.
The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship. As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed in front 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 either the U.S.S. Snook or the U.S.S.Shark. Cichy recalled, “When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered ‘Hit her again!’ We wanted to get it over with.” Tony stated that the second torpedo almost split the ship’s hull in two.
The Japanese guards took their guns and began swinging them as clubs 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 since they were ordered to abandon the ship.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship’s two holds. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds. “The Japs closed all the hatches and then left the ship in the 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.”
At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. The POWs, once on deck, raided the ship’s food lockers to eat their last meal. Cichy said, “I went to the kitchen. I filled up on anything I could find – sugar. rice, fish. Then I put on a life preserver and slipped over the side.”
“The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own.” A group of 35 POWs swam to the nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed them away with poles and hit them 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.
Tony went into the water and made his way toward a Japanese destroyer and witnessed how the POWs were being treated. “When I was about halfway there, I stopped because I saw what was happening to the other prisoners near the destroyer. The Japs were beating them down when they tried to get up on the boat.”
Wearing his life jacket, Tony swam around for four and one-half hours when the moonlight lit a lifeboat with one man in it coming toward him. “I thought it was a Jap so I was afraid to call-out, after what happened to the guys that tried to get on the destroyer, But when the boat passed, I thought I might as well take a chance.” Tony swam toward the boat, but it took him, what seemed to be an hour to reach it.
When he did, the man tried to help him into the boat, but since Tony so weak he could not do it. Tony found some debris to lie on. After getting some strength back, the man was able to get him into the boat. Once on the boat, Tony passed out. When he awoke, besides the original man, there was another man in the boat. Two additional men would be rescued.
At one point, a destroyer approached the lifeboat and stopped. A Japanese officer called two Japanese sailors over with machine guns. They aimed their guns at the boat but nothing happened. Suddenly, the Japanese destroyer pulled away without firing a shot at the men in the lifeboat.
The Japanese had taken anything of use from the boat when they abandoned it. According to Tony, they appear to have luck on their side, “It was getting light and we heard something bumping against the side of the boat. We looked over and saw that it was a box. It was heavy, but we dragged it in.” Inside of it was a sail and mast that was made to be used on the boat. They also fished from the sea two kegs of water. “It seemed like everything was just perfect for us. There must have been someone looking out for us. The China Sea is pretty big; why would all of this be happening if somebody wasn’t looking out for us?”
The POWs – after five hours of hard work – were able to rig the boat’s sail. One of the five survivors has some knowledge of navigation. Knowing that China was to the west, they steered the boat in that direction. “He made it by following the stars. We learned afterward we traveled 250 miles in that boat. It took us about two and a half days.” They also were lucky in the fact that the wind was blowing to the west for three days. It allowed them to get within 25 miles of the Chinese coast.
On the morning of their third day in the boat, the POWs came across two Chinese fishing boats. The Chinese rescued the POWs from the lifeboat. “They took care of us, fed us and gave us clothing. They cooked three gallons of rice and two big red snapper fish, and we cleaned that all up. Our bellies pretty near busted. We were still hungry, but we couldn’t eat no more. The Chinese couldn’t talk English but by signs, they understood who we were and where we wanted to go.”
The Chinese took the men to an area of Free China. “The next morning, we took off walking. I think we walked 20 miles until my feet got blistered and I couldn’t walk anymore.”
The former POWs were treated like royalty by the Chinese in every village they entered. They were given Chinese clothing to wear. They were taken to other villages and ate banquet after banquet on their 800-mile journey to American lines. During the journey, they walked, rode bikes, sedan car, and finally by truck to a Chinese Army post.
From this post, they made their final journey. One day they saw an American flag flying from a flagpole. They were taken to an American airfield and flown over the Himalayan Hump to India. From there, they were flown to North Africa. Four days later, they found themselves in New York City. From New York, they were taken to Washington D.C. where they spent nine days being questioned.
Tony recalled, “I was really sick and should have been in a hospital. But they wanted to know who was dead, who was alive, what the Japs were doing, how they treated us.”
Tony Cichy returned to New York Mills, Minnesota. After he got home, he quickly tired of telling his story. He was discharged, from the army, on July 16, 1945. Then the letters started to arrive. “The letters came from all over the United States. Because I was a survivor, they wanted to know if their husband was on the ship, if I knew him, and what happened to him. I did know a lot of them. They all died.”
Tony returned to Arlence and the couple had another son and a daughter. He lived in Marion Lake near Dent, Minnesota, and worked as a well driller. Years later, while at a military reunion, a man came up to Tony and said he had been a crew member of the U.S.S. Snook. It was this submarine that may have sunk the Arisan Maru. Tony looked at the man, took his hand, and said, “Thank you. You saved my life.”
On October 27, 2009, Anton E. Cichy died in Wadena, Minnesota. He was buried at Richville Cemetery in Richville, Minnesota.