The sinking of the Arisan Maru
On October 11, 1944, about 1800 POWs boarded the Arisan Maru hoping they would be better off than in the camps they were leaving. They would soon find out differently. The Arisan Maru was a rather new freighter and the men were led to the holds. These contained three levels of wooden shelves with about three feet between shelves. They could barely stand or move in the space.
After dark the ship left the harbor, and the men discovered the ship was heading south and not towards Japan. It had joined a convoy accompanied by a destroyer. The ships were about 200 miles south of Manila and went into coves in the islands. They were trying to elude American forces in the area. The ship then returned to Manila, arriving there around October 20. The next day they joined a convoy heading towards Japan.
The men received scant amounts of rice and water while on board. The heat proved unbearable, and about a third of the men suffered from dysentery and malaria. The stench grew steadily in the confined quarters. The Japanese dispensed no medicine. They did however issue life preservers which served to increase the fear of them. Many men lost their spirit and will to live and had fits. The othe men had to hold them down.
On the 24th of October, some of the POWs saw Japanese running toward the rear of the ship and they witnessed the wake of a torpedo heading towards the ship. It barely missed the ship. A second torpedo also misfired. Then a torpedo successfully hit midship on the starboard side. The ship buckled in the middle, but the forward part of the ship stayed level. This was where the Americans were. They Japanese cut the rope ladder to the forward hold, and closed the latches on the second hold. They boarded life boats and headed for two destroyers.
Some of the Americans managed to get on deck and threw rope ladders down to the men below them. Some of the men jumped overboard once on deck. Some attempted to swim toward the destroyers, but were then struck with long poles from the Japanese. Some of the men who had remained on board went to the galley and hit the food supplies. The ship began to break into two pieces and sunk.
According to the Japanese Prisoners of War Informations Bureau listed 1,778 of the 1,782 prisonere as deceased. However, a few were picked by the Haro Maru and taken to Taiwan. Five survived in the sea and a Chinese junk ship took them aboard and they were helped by the Chinese to an American air strip.
Account from Donald's Meyer's personal story (one of the five who survived and rescued by the Chinese)
"Darkness came on fast now. A bitter wind blew up and the cold went through me chilling my very blood. It was a dark night--no moon and the stars were faint and far away. I could see no one, but I could hear men screaming and calling to one another--someone cried out in pain and the next minute a very large contraption, probably a piece of the ship floated by with about fifty men on it. They were singing and yelling at the same time. Men were going down now. The sea was getting rougher. It was a strange bereft feeling with so many of my friends drowned all about me, a great numbness came over me and I felt myself slipping. This only lasted a second. " Finish the story of his war account.
Calvin Graef another survivor endured the dark night at sea.
"Out there in the cold water, I took heart, as I recalled that night at Davao when three hundred boys, hungry, wet and cold, with cut feet and swollen legs, were brought back from the fourteen hours in the rice paddies. As they neared the house of the Jap major they broke into song: "God bless America! Land that I love...Finish his war memories (We Prayed to Die from Cosmopolitan Magazine in early 1950).
From Tragedy at Sea from the book Some Survived
"So together they hung on, not knowing where, how, or why. except that they determined to try to another day. There were times during the night when neither, without the other, would have survived. The waves grew rougher and the winds chilled them to the bone. To have surrendered to the pull of the angry sea would have been effortless; to keep struggling was exhausting and painful. And if they should see another day, what promise would it hold? Certainly no American ships would come on the scene; these were Japanese waters and the Japs had already demonstrated no inclination to pick up American
survivors. Tomorrow could only mean thirst, hunger and perhaps, madness and yet they hung on. Maybe it was the dread of the depth of the sea which made them refuse to give up; maybe it was the hope that in the light of day they would find enough
timbers to build a raft on which to rest and drift to some yet unseen island.
Once during the long night they thought they saw a lifeboat. But on second thought they decided it was a mirage. Certainly had one been around they would have seen it before dark.
At dawn, incredulously, Graef's now dim vision caught sight of a shiny, white lifeboat bobbing up and down with the waves. His heart pounded. But fearful that his mind had cracked, he said nothing for a moment. Then Meyer saw it and unhesitantly yelled in a hoarse voice, "My God! Do you see what I see Calvin?"
Read the chapter Tragedy at Sea from the book Some Survived by Manny Lawton of Arisan Maru survivors
Permission received from Algonquin Books to print this chapter.