T/4 Steve Lemke was born on October 15, 1911, and was the son of Adolphe and Mary Lemke, who were immigrants from Poland in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was raised on Route #1, Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota, and worked on the family’s farm. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, named his father as his contact person, and indicated he was working on the family farm.
On April 14, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he became a member of A Company, 194th Tank Battalion. Basic training was condensed down to six weeks under the direction of Sgts. Nelson, Hyatt, Goodrich, and Paine. The sergeants lived with them and dealt with all their problems or directed them to someone who could help them. They supervised the selectees’ calisthenics and drill, besides holding classes in all the different subjects they needed to be trained as tank battalion members. After completing basic training he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for specialized training which he may have completed as the battalion readied to go overseas. His rank fo Technician Fourth Grade indicated that he had specialized training and was referred to as Sergeant.
The battalion, in July, still had only the eight M2 tanks that came with the companies to Ft. Lewis. It received some single turret tanks in late July that had been built in 1937, and a few beeps (later known as “jeeps”). It was the only unit at the base with them. On August 1st, the battalion was told it was losing B Company. The company was detached from the battalion and issued orders to Alaska. The rest of the battalion took part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis and learned it was being sent overseas.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, 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 Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. 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 buoys on its deck covered by a tarp – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the 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 fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a regular army tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd was at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Major Ernest Miller was ordered to Ft. Knox by plane arriving the next day August 14th. That afternoon he received the battalion’s overseas orders. During the meeting, one of General Jacob L. Dever’s staff officers – Dever was the commanding officer of Ft. Knox – let it slip that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. On August 18th, Miller stopped in Brainerd to see his family after receiving the battalion’s orders. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. Miller later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis. Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The fact there were only three “overseas” locations the tanks could be sent which were Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines, and Alaska was already eliminated because B Company was being sent there. Ironically, a week before this, the wife a 194th officer, from St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote him a letter and asked her husband, “Is it true that your unit is going to the Philippines?”
Documents show that the entire First Tank Group was scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. The 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some military documents from the time show the tank group in the Philippines was scheduled to be made up of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Other documents show the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines was also called the First Provisional Tank Group. At the same time, the men in the Philippines referred to the tank group as the First Tank Group.
Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The reality was there were only three places where the tanks could be sent; Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines. Alaska was already eliminated since B Company was being sent there. The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Besides the 194th, the tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st medium tank battalions at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 70th was a regular Army tank battalion while the 191st had been a National Guard tank battalion. The 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, were also part of the tank group. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had received standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
It was at this time men whose enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas, who were 29 years old or older and/or married with dependents were allowed to be transferred from the battalion. On September 4th, 1941, the 194th, without B Company, was sent to Ft. Mason, north of San Francisco, by train and arrived at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated. Those men with medical conditions were replaced with men who had never trained in tanks.
The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort on flatcars and were about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west by train and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason.
The tanks fit fine in the ship’s first and second hold, but the deckhead in the ship’s third hold was too low, so 19 tanks had to have their turrets removed to fit them in the hold. So that the turrets went on the tanks they came off of, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets. The ship’s captain also ordered that all ammunition, fuel, and batteries be removed from the tanks. He stated they would be sent later, but it appears the batteries were sent to the Philippines with the tanks.
The soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9 PM. The enlisted men found themselves assigned to bunks in the ship’s holds with the tanks. Those men with lower bunks found them unbearable to sleep in because of the heat and humidity. Soon, most men were sleeping on deck but learned quickly to get up early because the crew hosed down the deck each morning. Many of the men had seasickness during this part of the voyage. The soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. At 5:00 PM that evening the ship sailed.
The next morning, the members of the battalion were called together and they were informed the battalion was going to the Philippines. On the next leg of the voyage, the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a replenishment oiler. The heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer were the ships’ escorts. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge for a personnel transfer. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck as an attempt was made to make the transfer. When it became apparent that a small boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to the other, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline the night of Tuesday, September 16th, and the date became Thursday, September 18th. A few days past Guam, the soldiers saw the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed south along the east coast of Luzon, around the southern end of the island, and up the west coast. On Friday, September 26th, the ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were bused to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with the 17th Ordnance Company, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets.
The maintenance section and 17th Ordnance reinstalled the batteries, but they needed aviation fuel for the tanks’ engines to get them off the docks. 2nd Lt. Russell Swearingen went to the quartermaster and asked him for the fuel. He was told that they did not have any at the port so he would have to go to the Army Air Corps to get it. When he arrived at the Air Corps command, he was informed that they couldn’t give him the aviation fuel without a written order. It took two weeks to get the tanks off the docks. While all this was going on, the battalion’s half-tracks arrived as well as motorcycles. The battalion’s reconnaissance detachment had Harley-Davidsons at Ft. Lewis but the new motorcycles were Indian Motorcycles with all the controls on the opposite side of the bikes. The reconnaissance section also had peeps (later known as jeeps), but many of these were taken by high-ranking officers for their own use since they were new to the Army.
Since the commanding officer of the installation, General Edward King had not received an 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 this 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.
At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful. It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos. Many men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency.
The 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20th. With its arrival, the Headquarters for the Provisional Tank Group was formed. It was at this time that the process of transferring the battalion’s D Company to the 194th was begun. Doing this gave each tank battalion three companies of tanks. The 192nd was sent to the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment and had the job of setting up a radio school to train radio operators for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours after the battalion’s arrival. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When it was informed it was the 192nd, they gave the battalion frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd Tank Battalion’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th, read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed his officers of the attack. He also ordered his officers to have the half-tracks join the tanks at Clark Field. Their job was to engage Japanese paratroopers. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up – near the pilots’ mess hall – in a straight line to be refueled. While the planes were being serviced, the pilots went to lunch. The members of the tank crews received their lunches from the battalion’s food trucks. At 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the company lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, 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. One result of the attack was that the transfer of D Company to the 194th was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but remained part of the 192nd.
The tankers lived through two more attacks on December 10th and 12th. On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th. It was also stated the battalion was sent to Batangas in southern Luzon for about two weeks. During this time, little happened, but the tankers were strafed a few times by Japanese planes. The tanks spent much of their time doing reconnaissance and hunting down fifth columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day to show Japanese planes where ammunition dumps were located. They were ordered back north to the Agno River. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were manned by grounded Air Corps men and used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of tanks.
On December 22nd, A Company and D Company, 192nd, were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. C Company remained behind at Batangas. The tankers at 2:15 P.M. started the more than 150 mile movement north to meet the Japanese at an area 85 miles northwest of Manila. When they got close to their objective, to protect the battalion from strafing, most of the battalion went to the left on Route 3 toward Tarlec and the river while A Company was sent down Route 5 toward Cabanatuan and San Jose and then along the river until it rejoined the rest of the battalion. When the tanks passed through the barrio of San Jose, they saw the dead bodies of Filipino men, women, and children who had mistaken Japanese Zeros for American planes. When they came out to wave at the planes, they were strafed.
The tank battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were about five yards apart. It was on the 26th that the Japanese artillery fire began landing near the tanks. The Self-propelled mounts of the Filipino Scout would take positions between the tanks fire several rounds and move to another position. Shells began landing around the tanks, so the crews buttoned themselves in their tanks. The tanks did not have anti-personnel shells to use against infantry, but the tankers used the tanks’ 37 millimeter guns against armored vehicles and their machine guns against infantry. The fire stopped the Japanese advance for a while but the Japanese brought up more artillery and resumed the attack.
Two volunteers were needed to set up machine guns at the far end of the bridge to harass the Japanese. Pvt. Gerald Bell and Pvt. August Bender, who were assistant tank drivers, volunteered to take two antiaircraft machine guns from the tanks to the far end of the bridge and set up machine gun nests. It was stated that Bell and Bender held their position and died after being surrounded. The Japanese attempted to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops and knocking out three tanks with the support of two divisions of the Philippine Army. According to Capt. John Riley, most of the men had already concluded they would lose the battle for Luzon, but they also made the decision that they would tie up the Japanese as long as possible. Men stated that the U.S. had asked them to hold out for six months.
The two Filipino Army Divisions withdrew leaving the tank battalions alone to face the Japanese. The tankers held up the Japanese as long as possible before withdrawing. The 192nd received the order to withdraw but for some unknown reason, the 194th did not receive the order. The battalion finally was ordered to withdraw and 1st Lt. Harold Costigan informed the members of A Company, and D Company, 192nd, that they would have to fight their way out. The tanks fought their way through Carmen losing two tanks but saving the crews except for Capt. Edward Burke who had been hit by enemy fire. He was presumed dead but had been captured by the Japanese.
As the company’s tanks withdrew, they came to a blown-up bridge. Attempting to find a place to ford the river they drove along the bank. It was at that time that a tank was hit by artillery fire in front and back resulting in a fire in the tank. The driver of the tank, PFC Carl Kramp, could not see the tank ahead of him because of dust, so his tank continued upstream and went right through the Japanese Army. Pvt. Carlson Hopkins, the tank’s bow gunner, used up three belts of bullets killing a large number of Japanese. While this was going on, Pvt. Jim Bogart was fighting the fire in the tank and pulled the cord out of the radio jack ending communications with the other tanks. He did manage to fire on the Japanese with his pistol using the pistol port. The tank would not shift into fourth or fifth gear and the crew believed it had been damaged by the shell that hit the front of the tank. Later, they found a musette bag between the shift lever and the power tunnel. The tank did make it to the defensive line but had enough damage that it had to be repaired by 17th Ordnance, so the members of the tank’s crew joined other crews.
D Company found the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed and abandoned their tanks. The company commander had the crews disable the tanks, but he hoped they would be recovered so he did not have the men make them inoperable. The tanks were captured and repaired by the Japanese and put into use in Bataan. One tank commander – who refused to abandon his tank and had his handgun pointed at the back of the head of his tank driver – found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. The tank commander received the Silver Star for saving his tank.
That day, the tank battalions were also given the job of holding the line against enemy armor and major thrusts until 5:00 A.M. on December 27th. Lt. Col. Ernest Miller – being the senior officer – was given authority to withdraw both tank battalions before 5:00 A.M. if he felt it was necessary. The tanks held the line but withdrew at 7:30 P.M. before the bridges they needed to cross were blown up at 11:30 P.M. that night. The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th. Arrangements had been made for the tanks to pick up their rations at Tarlac Depot. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tankers found their tanks being used as “mobile pillboxes.” The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
The tank battalions, on the 31st, were holding open two bridges at Calumpit so that the Southern Luzon forces could withdraw toward Bataan. It was noted that convoys of trucks would pass the tanks carrying absolutely nothing. It was then that Lt. Col. Miller sent out detachments of trucks to warehouses and had the men load them with ammunition, food, and high-octane fuel that was used by the tanks. It was stated that one detachment went all the way to Ft. Stotsenburg. The trucks returned carrying 6 tons of canned food and 12,000 gallons of fuel.
The 194th, at 2:00 AM the morning of January 1st, crossed a bridge over the San Fernando River which was destroyed since all Filipino and American units had already crossed. They were now on the main road into Bataan. A defensive line was set up from Guagua to Porac to the swamps along Pampanga Bay. The bridge on a side road that ran from Guagua to Sexmoan and back onto Route 7 was destroyed. At 4:00 AM on January 1, 1942, A Co. dug into new positions. They listened to Japanese troop movements and heard the sound of tanks. They watched 5 Japanese 89A medium tanks come into view in an open field. The tanks stopped because no reconnaissance had been done in the area. Within minutes, there were 5 destroyed Japanese tanks
That same day, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow 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 and 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 and the Southern Luzon forces escaped.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the Southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. On January 3rd a platoon of C Company tanks were driven back to Guagua from Betis and Guagua began receiving fire from Japanese artillery. When enemy fire became too intense the battalion dropped back. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese south of Guagua on January 5th. That night, the tank battalion was holding a position north of Lubao. It was about 2:00 in the morning when one of the battalion’s outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be a 500 man Japanese battalion with artillery. When they attacked, the Japanese were mowed down by the guns of the tanks. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located and charged toward the tanks, through an open field and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks. It was estimated they had lost half their troops.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked 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 7th, 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 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, January 8th, 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 had 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 that 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 withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th, 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, which 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 28th, 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.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon. Each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. 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.
It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. 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. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.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.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. 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.)
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 the order “crash.” Capt. Arthur Root, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. 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 managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At 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 the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. 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 in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances 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.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
Lt. Col. Miller gathered the members of all the companies together and told them of the surrender. He stated that Gen. King surrendered because he wanted to prevent the needless slaughter of his men. He then instructed them to destroy their tanks and half-tracks. An officer from the finance department showed up and each man received about $15.00 in pesos as partial payment for the last four months, Men gamble it away while others made wisecracks about how they were going to spend it.
It is believed that it was at this time that Steve and the other members of his tank crew, Pvt. Rudolph Bolstad, and Pvt Arthur Gattie, all joined the guerrillas. It is not known when or how, but at some point, Steve became a Prisoner of War. Most likely he surrendered when Gen. Johnathan Wainwright ordered all resistance to end with the surrender of Corregidor. After being held at Bilibid, he would have been sent to Cabanatuan #3.
Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was previously known as Camp Pangatian. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 housed those men captured on Corregidor. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. About eight months later, Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1 on October 30th.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. 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 barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” 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. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.” Steve was assigned to Barracks 5, Group II.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died. While at Cabanatuan, Steve was admitted into the camp hospital. He was reported as a patient on June 27, 1942. The report does not give the illness or a date of discharge from the hospital. It is not known if he went out on a work detail, but the exact detail is not known.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. Since the water table was high, a POW held the body down in the grave with a pole until it was covered with dirt.
The day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.
The POWs were sent out on work details near the camp to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. 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 to drive their faces deeper into the mud. 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 worst detail the POWs worked on was the latrine detail where the POWs cleaned the Japanese latrines with their bare hands. The POWs removed the feces and put it in 55-gallon drums. It is not known what happened to the feces, but it is known it was often used as fertilizer by the Japanese. Returning from the work details in the evening, the POWs – even though they were searched – somehow managed to bring medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp. The POWs ate supper but after they finished there wasn’t much time for them to do anything since dusk was an hour after supper. Later, the POWs had books to read that were sent by the Red Cross.
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12th and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 27th, a POW who had escaped on August 7th was recaptured. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.” Three POWs were executed, on September 29th, by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate, and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
From September through December, the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The POWs on the Tottori Maru – which sailed on October 8th – were the first to receive POW numbers. It is not known when, but Steve received the number 1-05957 as his POW number. The number “1” meant the number was issued at Cabanatuan.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. At some point, 50 grams of mongo beans replaced some of the rice. In addition, sick POWs also received an additional 50 grams of meat. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
Fr. Antonio Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major cleanup of the camp on November 14th and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot while attempting to escape on November 16th. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23rd, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. He returned on December 24 with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat, vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
On January 11th, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. It was about this time that Elmer contracted malaria, beriberi, and dysentery. According to medical records kept at the camp, he was admitted to the camp hospital on January 14, 1943. So far, no discharge date has been found. On January 18th, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th.
During this time multiple work details left the camp and returned each day. Some details were small while others had 1255 to 1450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7th. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3rd, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1st, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
In August, the rainy season had started, and all the extra food was long gone. The Japanese planned to move the hospital to the same area as the healthy POWs to reduce the size of the camp so they could reduce the number of guards. On September 22nd, the hospital was moved. The POWs also were ordered to stop cooking their own food. For the sick, this was bad news since meals for them were being cooked individually. The POWs adopted a system where a group placed an order for food 24 hours before they wanted the food. The supplies were debited from that group’s supplies.
An order was issued on October 3rd that all good khaki garments, hats, rifle belts, and field bags they had must be turned over to the Japanese. The next day, the Japanese sent 1300 POWs to Bongabong in captured U.S. trucks. On one of the front bumpers of a 6 by 6 truck were the markings “Hq 192nd.” The POWs were back in the camp by 8:00 P.M. and to the surprise of the other POWs, their possessions were returned to them. It turned out that the Japanese were still shooting the movie, and the POWs were used as extras in the movie. Also during the month, the POWs noted that the food they were growing on the camp farm was being sent to Manila. On October 18th, 103 telegrams were brought to the camp but only 21 men present in the camp received them. It appeared that other men were out on work details. Four days later, 175 telegrams arrived at the camp, but only 65 were distributed. It was noted that some had been received in Tokyo that same month.
The POWs received on December 7, 1943, ½ a pound of sugar, 2 cans of soluble coffee, 2 chocolate emergency rations, 1 pound of prunes, and a ½ pound of cheese. The items were perishable goods that came from the Red Cross Christmas boxes sent to the camp. That night they received a Japanese “news sheet” that told of the terrible American losses in the southwest pacific. According to the sheet, the U.S. had lost most of its navy. It also stated that the U.S. lost 5 carriers, 2 cruisers, and a battleship in the Gilberts, and 37 ships were lost at Bougainville. On the 11th, they received more coffee, two cans of cheese, two chocolate bars, and two boxes of raisins.
On Christmas Eve the Japanese gave each man an unopened Red Cross box. Inside the POWs found cigarettes which usually were missing from the boxes. From 9:00 P.M. until midnight on Christmas Eve, carolers were all over the camp. Christmas started with midnight mass for the Catholics with Protestant services at 5:30 A.M. Bango was at 7:00 A.M. instead of 6:30. The Japanese also handed out to each man an unopened Red Cross box.
One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worse beatings was considered the best detail to be on. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside was 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.
During February 1944, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila.
As more and more POWs were sent to Manila for shipment to another part of the Japanese empire, the officers were put to work on the camp farm with the enlisted men. In August 1944, the POWs found themselves working to move the hospital to the same area as the POW barracks. The reason was that the Japanese wanted to reduce the size of the camp so they would need fewer guards. The POWs were keeping their own gardens and growing their own food, but the Japanese now insisted that the POWs stop cooking their own food. The POWs adopted a group cooking policy where the POWs in a group placed an order 24 hours before they wanted it, and it was deducted from that group’s food stock. The POWs were also able to purchase coffee. They noticed that the Japanese attitude also had changed and that they wanted the POWs more involved in the running of the camp.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs were finishing work for the day when they heard the sound of planes, but the sound of these planes was different from the sound of Japanese planes. They looked up and saw a formation of 80 planes fly over, but the planes were too high for them to see any insignias. The planes seemed to agitate the Japanese so the POWs whispered to each other that they may be American. After entering the camp, they got their answer as they watched a dogfight directly above the camp. Some of the planes flew low over the camp and on the planes they saw the U.S. Navy insignias. A loud wild cheer came out of the mouths of thousands of POWs. When one of the Japanese planes involved in the dogfight crashed to the ground in flames, another wild cheer went up. As they watched, wave after wave of American planes flew over the camp. Even the hospital patients crawled out of their beds to get a look at the planes. Next, they heard the explosions of anti-aircraft shells over Clark Field and Manila. After the attack ended many of the POWs sobbed. Many of the POWs believed this would end the transfer of the POWs to Japan. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The POWs heard a rumor from the guards that Americans were on Mindanao Island, but it turned out the rumor was false.
On October 7 or 8, Steve’s name was listed on a paper of POWs being sent to Bilibid. Trucks arrived at the camp and at dawn on October 9, the POWs rode to Bilibid Prison for the night. They were next taken to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. The POWs were boarding the ship at 4:00 P.M. on the 11th when they heard air raid sirens. Nothing on the ship showed that it was carrying POWs. All but 200 of the POWs were put into hold #2. The other 200 went into the #1 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 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 was anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp during the night which left the POWs were in total darkness. Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes on Manila. At some point, the ship was attacked by American planes returning from a bombing mission 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 wire the ship’s blowers into the lighting system which brought fresh air into the hold for two days. When the Japanese found out what the POWs had done, the power was turned off the power.
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 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 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. 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 hatches 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.
Cpl. Glenn Oliver recalled that he was on the port side and walked back to see the damage caused by the torpedo. The deck was peeled back and he could see water inside the hold washing back and forth. When a wave went under the ship the stern would wobble up and down and he heard the steel tearing. Shortly after this, the stern tore off and sunk; 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.”
A group of about 30 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese destroyer. When they attempted to board, the Japanese pushed them underwater with long poles to drown them.
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 watched as the ship went under with other men around him. “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.”
The next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other POWs were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa. They later were sent by ship to Japan. The men in the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom. T/4 Steve Lemke was not one of them.
In 1945, his family received this message:
19 June 1945
“Mrs. Mary Lemke
Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota
“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, T/4 Steve Lemke, 37, 025, 892, 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, T/4 Steve Lemke’s name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.