Pvt. Wilbur C. Callison was the son of
Albert A. Callison & Clara M. Stuber-Callison. He was born in 1918 in Wise
Michigan. It is known that he had two brothers, one who died at
age ten, and two sisters. In 1940, he was living in Merrill
Village, Michigan, married to Inez, and working as a bank clerk for the
Farmer's Bank. Wilbur enlisted in the U.S. Army on January 9,
1941, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
At Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion. A company of the battalion would later be reorganized as 17th Ordnance Company and sent to the Philippine Islands in September 1941.
On December 8, 1941, Wilbur lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield just ten hours after Pearl Harbor. His company worked to keep the tanks of the 192nd & 194th Tank Battalions supplied with gasoline, ammunition, and running.
Wilbur became 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. He, like the other POWs, received little food and water. At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men. Each boxcar was packed with 100 men. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out at Capas. They then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell, an unfinished Filipino Army Base, was pressed into service by the Japanese as a POW Camp. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. Men literally died waiting for a drink. Many of the POWs worked the burial detail since the death rate at the camp was as high as fifty men a day.
The Japanese recognized that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Wilbur was sent to the camp. He remained in the camp until he went out on a work detail to Lipa, Batangas, on December 12, 1942. The POWs built an airfield with shovels and pickaxes. He remained on the detail until August 1944, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.
On October 10, 1944, Wilbur, with other POWs, was taken to the Port Area of Manila. His detachment of POWs were scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since the ship was ready to sail and not all of his POW detachment had arrived, the Japanese put another detachment of POWs on the ship. Wilbur's POW detachment was put on the Arisan Maru which was the ship the second group of POWs had been scheduled to sail on.
On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp. During the night, the POWs were in total darkness. Being sent to Palawan resulted in the ship missing an air attack on Manila by American planes, but the ship was later attacked by American planes during a raid on Palawan.
Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice. Conditions in the hold were so bad, that the POWs began to develop heat blisters. Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not cutoff the power. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the power lines. This allowed fresh air into the hold. The blowers were disconnected two days later when the Japanese discovered what had been done.
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 some point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th. There, it joined a convoy. On October 21st, 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. This made the ships targets for submarines. The POWs in the hold were so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by torpedoes.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds. The ship was near Shoonan, off the coast of China. Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard. The men inside the holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted and began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.
The Japanese on deck began running around the ship. As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed the bow of the ship. Moments later, a second torpedo passed the ship's stern. 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. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S Snook.
One of the Japanese guards took a machinegun and began firing on the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them down.
The Japanese began abandoning ship. Before they left, they cut the rope ladders that went into the holds. The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 35 swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.
As the ship got lower in the water, some POWs took to the water. These POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Some POWs attempted to survive 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. By dark, most, if not all, were dead. According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sank sometime after dark. As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer until there was silence.
Three of the POWs found a abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. A Japanese destroyer approached the boat and appeared ready to fire on it. The POWs played dead and the ship pulled away without firing a shot. The next morning they found two additional survivors and pulled them into the boat.
In the end, only nine men out of the 1805 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking. Only eight of the POWs would survive the war. Pvt. Wilbur C. Callison was not one of them.
Since Pvt. Wilbur C. Callison was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. His parents also had a memorial headstone placed for him at the Warren Township Cemetery in Coleman, Michigan.
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