Pfc. Alexander Gorr, was born on November 22, 1921, to Sophie and Gottlieb Gorr in Michigan. He lived at
23 South 15th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, and went to St. Paul Lutheran Elementary School in Melrose Park,
Illinois. After grade school, Al attended Proviso Township High School in Maywood. While a student at Proviso, he
loved to spend his free time playing golf.
Alex left high school before graduating and went to work in a soft drink bottling plant.
Alex joined the Illinois National Guard and became a member of the Company B, 192nd
Tank Battalion, when his unit was called into federal service. His company trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky,
were he learned operate half-tracks and tanks. During his time at Ft. Knox, Alex became a tank driver. He
also is known to have been a good mechanic.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before
this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at
8:00 to 8:30. Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of
.30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and
training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to
1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such
as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their
barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they
were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of
returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent
overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines,
Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign to from federal service and were
replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks of the 753rd. The decision
to send the battalion to the Philippines was made on August 15, 1941.
The decision for this move - which had been made in 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 an Japanese occupied
island which was hundred 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
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft.
McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas
duty. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion
at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was 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 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the
International Date Line. 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 20, 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 Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents
along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and
received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that
the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field
Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. 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
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease
was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank
maintenance as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.
Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times. They received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the
pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the
airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as
the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and 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.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They
had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.
Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was
only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, where the bridge they were going to
use to cross the Agno River had been destroyed. The tankers made and end run to get south of river and ran
into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
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. The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near
Cabanatuan on December 27, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan
on December 28 and 29. On December 31/January 1, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit
Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about whose command
they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance
down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was
unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the
bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew. 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., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as
cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having
suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so
that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog 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, before the engineers blew up
the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
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.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, 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
When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, 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-Heicienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought
its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were
loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy
losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani
Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27,
when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw
to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose 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 coast line 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 off shore.
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 pot shots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty
minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.
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 area.
B Company 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.
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 to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.
Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the
foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks. It was also at this time that Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen.
Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor. Wainwright declined to do this.
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 lunched 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. The number of
operational tanks also became more critical with C Company, 194th - which was attached to the 192nd - having
only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the
jungle where they 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. When
General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
Alex was taken as a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. At Cabcaben, Uhlan and the other POWs were
ordered to sit in front of Japanese artillery which was firing on Corregidor. When shells from Corregidor
began to land among the POWs, he and the other men attempted to find cover. During the artillery exchange four
of the Japanese guns were knocked out.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed 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
put one hundred men into each car and closed the doors. The men who died remained standing since there was no
room for them to fall to the floor. At Capas, the living POWs climbed out of the cars while the bodies of the
dead fell to the ground. The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp
and believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When they arrived at the camp, the camp commandant
told the Americans that they were not prisoners of war but captives and would be treated as such. The Japanese
also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried with them and refused to return it. The POWs were
searched and anyone found with Japanese money were separated from the other POWs and sent to the guardhouse.
These POWs were accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. Over several days, gunshots were
heard coming from southeast of the camp.
There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2½ to 8 hours waiting
for a drink. The Japanese guard in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason, and the next man in
line would have to wait up to four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking food had to be hauled
three miles to the camp. Mess kits could not be cleaned. Since there was no water to wash their clothing, the
POWs threw away soiled clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few of the POWs in the camp hospital
Since most of the POWs had dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in flies being
everywhere in the camp including the camp kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no water, soap, or
disinfectant which also caused diseases to spread. When the ranking American doctor presented a letter with
the medicines and medical supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander, Captain Yoshio
Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another letter. He also said that the only thing he wanted to know about
the POWs were their names and serial numbers after they died.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese refused
to let it into the camp. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a Japanese lieutenant that
they could set up an 150 bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the lieutenant. Medicines
sent to the camp by the Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own use.
The POWs called the hospital "Zero Ward" because most of the men who entered it never came
out alive. The Japanese were so afarid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire fence up around
it. The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed with knives from
mess kits. Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough to perform his
Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and placed them
under the hospital building. To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the ground, put down
lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the bodies had been. It
took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk, went out on a work detail for the day such as the one collected wood for
the POW kitchen. Some POWs went out on work details which lasted for months to get out of the camp. The worse
detail a man could be put on was the burial detail. On this detail, two POWs carried a dead man to the camp
cemetery. Once there, they put the body in a grave and held the body down with a pole, since the water table
was high, and covered it with dirt. The next morning, when the burials resumed, the dead were often sitting up
or had been dug up by wild dogs.
While a POW at Camp O'Donnell, Al was sent out on a work detail to scavenger destroyed American
equipment as scrap metal. During the six months Alex spent on this detail, Al drove a truck carrying the scrap
metal to Manila. While on this detail, Al and the other POWs received treatment that was much better than that
given to other prisoners.
When the detail ended, Alex was returned to Cabanatuan.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp One was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part
in the death march where held. Camp Two did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened
and housed Naval POWs. Camp Three was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken. In
addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camps One and
Three were later consolidated into one camp.
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. What details Joe took part in from the camp is not
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. In addition, the lack of proper bathrooms
contributed to 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.
The POWs at Cabanatuan had their first glimpse that America was winning the war when they witnessed a
dogfight above the camp. The planes were too high to see insignia, but they could tell that the planes were
engaging each other. One plane, a Japanese fighter, crashed outside the camp as the POWs cheered. Another
plane, an American, followed the first plane down. Upon seeing the stars on the wings of the plane, the POWs
A short time later, they heard explosions to the southwest of the camp. They knew that Clark Field and
Manila were being bombed. They now knew that liberation was a possibility.
A couple of days later, the Japanese transferred two groups of 250 POWs from Cabanatuan and took them to
This was done to prevent these men from being liberated.
On October 2, 1944, 1775 POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila. When his POW group arrived at
the pier, the ship they where scheduled to sail on, the
Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the pier.
Another POW detachment, scheduled to sail, on the
Arisan Maru, had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail. It was at that time that the
Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the
Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 11, 1775 POWs boarded the
Arisan Maru and were crammed into the first hold of the
Arisan Maru which could hold 400 men. They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Those
POWs who had lain down in the wooden bunks along the haul could not sit up because the bunks were so close
together. Eight large cans served as latrines for the POWs. Anton Cichy said
, "For the first few days there were 1,800 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. 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."
The ship sailed the same day, but instead of heading for Formosa, it went to a cove off Palawan Island
to avoid American planes. Within the first 48 hours, five men had died. It was discovered that the Japanese had
removed the light bulbs, in the hold, but had not turned off the system's power. Some of the POWs managed to
wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system. This provided fresh air to the POWs for two
days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.
After this was done, the POWs began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese soon realized that if they
did not do something, the ship would be a death ship. To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600
of the POWs to the ship's second hold which was partially filled with coal. During the move, one of the POWs
was shot and killed while attempting to escape. During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces
of water and every 24 hours, the POWs received two half a mess kits of rice.
Of this time, Graef said
, "As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was
maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under these
conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty five gallon tins of
fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked the cloth dry. Men licked
their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
Arisan Maru was anchored off Palawan it was attacked once by American planes. The ship returned to the
Manila on October 20, where, it joined a convoy. On October 21, after loading bananas and other foods, the
convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese also issued life jackets to the POWs which
could float for about two hours. According to survivors, all this did was reinforce, in the Americans, the
fear of being killed by their own countrymen.
The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. 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 crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships
targets for the submarines.
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 wee 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."
, "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 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.
It was 4:50 P.M. when the Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in
front of the ship. They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship.
The ship shook and came to a stop. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, in an empty hold. The POWs
cheered wildly, but it stopped when 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
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 second 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
The guards took their rifles and used them as clubs to drive the POWs on deck into the holds. Once in
the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over the holds, but they did
not tie the hatch covers down. Cichy recalled
, "The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have forgot about the prisoners
on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches and told us to come
up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of guys down below. One of them escaped by simply walking
into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S. Overback, Baltimore."
, "The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their
POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and
dropped them into the holds. The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck. On the ship's deck an
American major spoke to the POWs, he said
, "Boys, we're in a hellva 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."
," 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
The ship slowly sank lower into the water.
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the water. At one
point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but the halves remained
afloat. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking. Some POWs
attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, rafts, and other flotsam and jetsam. When
they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them away with poles. 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."
, "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, he watched as the ship went under.
"I kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I didn't
Three POWs found an abandoned life boat 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
The next morning there were just waves. Olvier 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.
Al's family stated that the night Al died, his mother awoke, very upset, from a
dream. She told her family that he had drowned and also told them that he had a difficult time swimming
because he had a leg wound. At the time, the family members believed she was just upset about her dream and
reassured her that Al was safe in the Philippines. Only after the war, did they learn that he had drowned like
his mother had dream-t.
In 1945, his family received this message.
"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."
Posthumously, Pfc. Alex Gorr was awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Unit
Citation with Oak Leaves, the Victory Medal, the Foreign Service and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbons.
Since he died at sea, Pfc. Alex Gorr's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military
Cemetery at Manila