PFC Roy J. Flippen was born on October 6, 1917, in Ferris, Texas, to Lon S. Flippen & Virginia Mae Jordan-Flippen. With his four sisters and two brothers, he resided on Fourth Street in Ferris, Texas, and graduated from Ferris High School in 1937, with the highest grade point average for a male student. After high school, he worked construction.
Roy was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 21, 1941, in Dallas, Texas, and did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Afterward, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent there from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
After the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941, the National Guardsmen in the 192nd Tank Battalion, who were 29 years old or older, were given the chance to resign from federal service. Roy volunteered, or had his name drawn, to join the battalion and was assigned to HQ Company.
The reason for this move – which had been made during August 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.
Roy returned home to say his goodbyes and married Virginia. She had grown up in the next town over from Ferris, but she resided at 3409 Worth Street in Dallas when they married. He returned to Camp Polk, awaited orders, and packed up the battalion’s equipment.
The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and was ferried, on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Fort McDowell on Angel Island, where the soldiers were inoculated and given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those who had medical issues were replaced or scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons since they had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the trip to the Philippines. They also loaded ammunition belts, did tank maintenance, and prepared for maneuvers that were scheduled to take place.
On Monday, December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half. At all times, two crew members had to stay with their tank and received their meals from food trucks.
At six in the morning, on December 8, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered, with all the members of the tank and half-track crews, to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. When the members of HQ Company were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was in the afternoon that this belief was blown away.
The members of HQ Company remained in the battalion’s bivouac and saw American planes filling the sky. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and were lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall; the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, the saw “raindrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. During the attack, the company members hid in a dry latrine that was near their tents. They stayed in it until the attack was finished.
When the Japanese had finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The tankers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, or anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. The sight sickened them.
That night, there was one air-raid after another. Since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover. Being that it was safer in the trench than in their tents, the men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. The next morning the decision was made to move the company into a tree cover area. Without knowing it, Roy had slept his last night on a cot or bed. From this point on, he slept in a blanket on the ground.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27 and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlac-Cabanatuan Line and were near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28 and 29.
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion’s tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
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 withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
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 25th. 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 26th/27th, 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. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, 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.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took potshots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the treetops. Three members of the company were killed.
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.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
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.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted 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, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. 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 sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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 evening of April 8, Capt. Fred Bruni, the commanding officer of HQ Company, called his men together. He informed them that they would surrender to the Japanese the next morning at 7:00 and instructed them to destroy any weapons or supplies that the Japanese could use. He instructed the sergeants, to destroy the three tanks assigned to the company, but that they should not to destroy the company’s trucks. As he spoke, his voice choked and he turned away from his men for a moment. When he turned around and face them again, he continued and emphasized that they would surrender together. Somehow, Bruni came up with enough bread and pineapple juice for the men to have what he called, “Our last supper.”
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M. The members of the HQ Company remained in their bivouac, until April 11th, when the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. Roy was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
The company boarded their trucks and drove to just outside Mariveles and walked to Mariveles Airfield and where they were ordered to sit and wait. As they sat and watched, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours, and the Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs, but the POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some of the POWs who hid in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again, by the Japanese, and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bullpen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried him. The POWs were formed into detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as, “Forty or Eights,” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. From Capas, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’ Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese 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.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies 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 ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped 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. To get out of the camp, POWs went out on work details.
The dead, at Camp O’Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The death rate in the camp got so bad that Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs 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.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier. It appears Roy became ill since hospital records show that he was in the camp hospital on July 23, 1942. At that time, he was tested for tuberculosis. His results were negative.
According to Roy’s family, Roy’s cousin, M.C. was a Marine who was captured on Corregidor when it surrendered on May 6, 1942. M.C. – after he was liberated at the end of the war – told his family that his POW detachment was marching toward the POW camp when they saw another POW detachment marching in the opposite direction. As the detachments passed each other, M.C. saw that Roy was one of the POWs marching in the other direction. M.C. was the last member of the Flippen family to see Roy alive.
It is known that Roy went out on a work detail to Bataan on what was called “The Bataan Detail” which appears to have been a scrap metal detail. The POWs collected the scrap metal and took it to a central location so it could be sent to Japan. While on the detail, Roy was working with John Koleczek, HQ Company, when both men had their fingers crushed. In Roy’s case, it was the fingers on his right hand. He was sent to the Naval Hospital at Bilibid Prison and was admitted on May 21, 1943, and was discharged on June 28 and sent to Cabanatuan.
After returning to Cabanatuan, Roy was sent, as a replacement worker, to Neilsen Airfield to build a northeast/southwest runway. At the airfield, the Japanese built four Nipa barracks for the POWs. Each barracks was 150 feet long by 20 feet wide. Although they were large, the POWs still slept shoulder to shoulder since part of the barracks were used for officers quarters and sick wards. The entire POW compound was 300 feet by 200 feet.
At first, tents were provided for protection against the sun and rain, but many were stolen by the Filipinos and the rest deteriorated until they were useless. There was plenty of water for drinking and adequate latrines were provided. The POWs were divided into two groups. One group worked for an hour while the other rested. This was later reduced to two 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was increased to three 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon.
The POWs worked from 8:00 A.M. to noon and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The POWs were divided into two groups. While one group was working for an hour, the other group rested. The work was hard and called for the POWs to remove dirt and rock to the area where the runway was being built. Wheelbarrows were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to work. The POWs received one day off a week.
Small mining cars were brought in, and the POWs filled the cars with dirt and rocks before they were pushed by five men down a track from 200 feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where the material was wanted, they emptied the car.
On March 28, the Japanese instituted the “speedup program” to get the work done quicker. The POWs did not know if it was because they had fallen behind in the construction of the runway, or if it was because the war was going badly for the Japanese, and they needed the runway finished. This lasted until July 4 when it was ended. When the work was finished on the runway, the POWs were moved, on October 25, 1943, to Camp Murphy #1 where they were housed in the former headquarters building.
In October 1943, the POWs’ food ration was cut and many became ill. The sick call took place in the evening until 8:00 P.M. when roll call took place. A Japanese private determined who was sick enough not to work. The American doctor later was allowed to decide which POWs could not work. Often Japanese doctors went over his selections and determined which POWs would remain in the camp hospital. To the American medical staff, it seemed that the Japanese doctors sent men to work because they wanted to save face.
The POWs once again worked on constructing a runway. This time it was a north/south runway through a rice paddy at Zablan Field. When the work started the rice paddies were filled with water and it was the rainy season. In addition to picks and shovels, the POWs also operated diesel compressors, rollers, and drills. Each day they walked about three-quarters of a mile to where the construction was taking place. For lunch, they returned to their barracks. There was never enough water for the POWs when working, so men attempted to bring it with them in bottles if they did not have canteens.
No latrines were provided, so the POWs relieved themselves anywhere they wanted at the worksite. The spread of disease was prevented because of the sunshine, and frequent rains. This problem was never adequately dealt with.
The Japanese built five new barracks at Camp Murphy and the POWs were moved to them on April 28, 1944. This new housing was given the name Camp Murphy 2. The original POW compound was located about 250 yards away. A total of 200 POWs were housed in each of the barracks. The entire POW compound was 350 by 400 feet.
On January 4, 1944, the workday changed and the POWs now worked 7 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. To avoid the heat of the midday, the POWs started again at 1:30 and worked until 5:00 P.M. Their one day off a week was cut to half of a day off. Sometimes, they received a half a day off for some Japanese holiday. Their work hours were changed a second time with their afternoon hours being extended until 6:00 P.M. The POWs worked for one hour and were given one hour off. Since they were divided into two groups, one group would always be working.
Their job was to build a runway through rice paddies which meant they had to move dirt and rock to build it. To do this, they had mining cars which they pushed down 300 to 500 feet down a track to where the dirt was to be dumped.
The POWs were moved to Camp Murphy 2 on January 29, 1944, which was 200 yards from their old quarters. On March 1, 1944, the POWs witnessed the execution of Pvt. George Garrett by the camp commander, Lt. Yoshi Koshi, for planning to escape. According to the POWs, Garrett and two other men had planned an escape and were informed on by the Navy Chief Signalman, Harold Hirschberg, who the POWs considered a collaborator. According to the POWs, Hirschberg told Garrett, who he had, had a fight with, “You’ll never leave this camp alive.” The POWs stated that over several days, the Japanese starved Garrett, beat him, and finally placed a garden hose in Garrett’s mouth until his stomach was filled with water. The Japanese then stood on his abdomen which caused his death three days later.
The Japanese decided that work needed to be done at another airfield close by, so POWs were sent there to work. The airfield was 4 kilometers from Camp Murphy, and they were taken to it in trucks. They also received their meals at the airfield.
One of the biggest problems the POWs, and Japanese were having at this time was what was known as “foot pain,” which was a form of dry beriberi. If a man in the hospital showed signs of it, one Japanese soldier hit them in the head with a broom handle. The Japanese slowly came to respect the American medical staff’s selections and stopped questioning them.
Later in 1944, while the POWs were building runways, the airfield was attacked by American planes. For safety, they hid in the revetments as the planes strafed and bombed the field. As they watched the events, they enjoyed watching the damage the planes were doing. It was not long after witnessing the attack that he and the other POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison.
On August 20, 1944, Roy was selected to be sent to Japan. He and the other POWs were sent to Bilibid and housed in Building 12 which was designated as “the Casual Group.” He was admitted to the hospital on September 1, 1944, from Building 12. When he was considered to have recovered, he returned to Building #12 at Bilibid. By the time he was discharged, the original POW draft he had been a member of had already sailed for Japan.
In early October, Roy was one of the prisoners taken to the Port Area of Manila. When they arrived their ship, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail but not all of the POW detachment had arrived. There was another detachment of POWs scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru which was not ready to sail. Roy’s cousin, M.C. was in the detachment. The Japanese switched detachments so that the Hokusen Maru could sail. When all the POWs in Roy’s detachment had arrived they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. The POWs were packed into the ship’s first hold which comfortably could hold 400 men. During the first two days, five POWs died.
On October 11, almost 1775 POWs were packed into the ship’s number one hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up when he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five-gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in the floor of the hold being 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.”
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, but the ship was attacked once by American planes while there.
Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice. 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.
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 freshwater 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 Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20 and joined another eleven ships to form a convoy. The ship sailed again on October 21 as part of the convoy. The second day at sea, the Japanese issued each POW a life jacket which would keep a man afloat for two hours. Doing this confirmed the belief many of the POWs had that they would never reach Japan.
In the South China Sea, the convoy came under attack by American submarines. Since the POW ships were not marked with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs, the subs had no idea if there were POWs on any of the ships. The U. S. Military, which could read the Japanese code, also did not inform the subs that there were POWs on some of the ships. They did this so that the Japanese had no idea that they had broken their code.
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 5:00 P.M. on October 24, and some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship’s holds and had fed about half the POWs. 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. 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.”
The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. 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.”
Of being 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 nearly 1775 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived its sinking, but only eight of these men survived to the end of the war.
It is worth mentioning that Roy’s family kept in touch with Roy’s wife, Virginia, while he was a POW. Once the news of his death reached them, and Virginia, they slowly lost touch with each other. They did know that she moved away and remarried.
Sometime after June 22, 1945, his wife received this message:
“Dear Mrs. Flippen;
“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 husband 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, PFC. Roy J. Flippen, 38, 041, 225, 192nd 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”
In 2014, Virginia’s son, from her second marriage, contacted the Flippen family. He told them that he had Roy’s Purple Heart and wanted to return it to his family. He returned the medal to Roy’s sister, Edna, and told her that as a child he found the medal and a few other possessions of Roy’s. When he asked his mother who the medals belonged to, she told him that she was holding the things for a friend. He also said his mother never spoke about Roy until near the end of her life on her death bed.
Since he was lost at sea, Pfc. Roy Flippen’s name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the new American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. His wife later received his Purple Heart.