Van Pelt

Tec 5 Arthur George Van Pelt


    T/5 Arthur G. Van Pelt was born in January 14, 1919.  He was the son of George Van Pelt & Henrietta Suber-Van Pelt.  With his brother, he was raised at 521 30th Street in East Saint Louis, Illinois.  He was a high school graduate and attended college for one year.
    Arthur joined Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  This meant that he was recently drafted into the army.  He was put into the company because the army, at this time, attempted to fill vacancies within the unit with other men from Illinois, since the company was originally an Illinois National Guard Tank Company. 

    What is known about Arthur is that he trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and took part in the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941.  After the maneuvers, the 192nd remained behind at Camp Polk.  The members of the company had no idea why they were being kept there.  On the side of a hill the tankers learned that the battalion that they were being sent overseas.      From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were held back or replaced.  Those who were held back were told they would rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  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 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, 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 9th, 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 15th, 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 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
   At the fort, they were greeted by 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 20th 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 of tents.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

    The morning of December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times.  On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they 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 10th and 13th.
   
They finally received orders, on December 21st, that they were 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 23rd and 24th, 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 25th, 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 27th.  The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On December 31st/January 1st,  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 2nd to 4th, 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 5th/6th, 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 6th/7th 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 Road.
    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 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 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 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.  When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were 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 28th, 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.
    The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese had lunched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line.  Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line.  The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out.  One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon.  The tanks would do this one at a time. 
    The tankers used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole.  Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks.  Each man had a bag of hand grenades.  As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
    The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole.  The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese.  The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn't have to smell the rotting flesh.
    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 3rd.  On April 7th, 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.
    The morning of April 9, 1942, the order "crash" was heard.  The members of B Company circled their tanks and fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of theirs.  The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the crew compartments.  At 7:00 A.M., they became Prisoners of War.
    The members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  It was from this barrio that the tankers started what they simply called "the march."

    The POWs made their way north from Mariveles.  The first five miles of the march were uphill which was hard on men who were underfed and sick.  At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  They received little water and little food.  When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen.  In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom.  The surface of the trench was alive with maggots.  How long they remained in the bull pen is not known. 
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks of 100 men.  They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden
boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car.  Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall until the living left the cars.  At Capas, the living left the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
   
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that was put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp, and men literally died for a drink.  The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dyed each day.  The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead.  Often, when they returned the next morning with more dead, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies, or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
    
The Japanese realized they had to do something to lower the death rate at the camp, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  It is not known if Arthur. was sent to the camp when it opened or if he was sent there after he returned from a work detail.   
    In late 1942, or early 1943, Arthur was assigned to the POW detail that worked at the Bachrach Garage in Manila.  The POWs on this detail repaired trucks and other equipment for the Japanese.  Apprently, Arthur became ill and was returned to Cabanatuan.  It is not known how long he was there.

    At some point, Arthur was sent to Clark Field to build runways.  He remained there until the detail ended on August 20, 1944 when he was sent to Bilibid Prison.  Bilibid Prison was a holding point for POWs being sent to Japan or a Japanese occupied country.

    When the Japanese concluded that it was just the a matter of time before the Philippines would be liberated, he was sent to Pier 7 in Manila.  The POWs were scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, but while dock waiting on the docks, the Hokusen Maru became ready to sail.  Since the entire POW detachment assigned to the ship had not arrived, the Japanese put Arthur's group of POWs on the ship.  The Arisan Maru, Arthur's original ship, was later sunk by an American submarine on its way to Hong Kong.  

    Arthur and the other POWs were boarded onto the Hokusen Maru on October 1, 1944, and was moved to the harbor's breakwater.  The POWs remained in the ship's holds until the ship sailed on October 3, 1944, for Hong Kong.  It arrived there on October 11, 1944.

    According to the other members of the B Company,  while at sea, Arthur resisted another POW's attempt to take his canteen.  During the fight for the canteen, the other man beat Arthur to death with the canteen.  U. S. Army records have Tec 5 Arthur C. Van Pelt dying on Tuesday, October 10, 1944.  The story of his death was told by surviving members of B Company who were also on the ship.

    Since T/5 Arthur Van Pelt's body was thrown overboard, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.  


 



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