Pvt. Anton Ervin Cichy
Pvt. Anton E. Cichy was born on February 18,
1914, to John P. Cichy & Emelia Klimek-Cichy in Urbank, Minnesota.
With his three brothers and three sisters, he grew up in both Newton
Township, Otter Trail County, Minnesota. He worked as a laborer in road
Anton was inducted into the U. S. Army in 1941 and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. There, he was assigned to HQ Company, 194th Tank Battalion to fill-out the company's roster. The company had been with National Guardsmen from the three companies of the battalion.
In September 1941, Anton's battalion was ordered to San Francisco. There, they were inoculated and given physicals on Angel Island. They were sent by ship to the Philippine Islands.
On December 8, 1941, Anton lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. The soldiers had heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At 12:15 the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. Fifteen minutes later, the soldiers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. The soldiers counted the planes and commented on how pretty they looked. It was only when bombs began to hit the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
Tony ran to a nearby trench, but it was already filled with men. As he ran to hide under a tank, bombs exploded around him. Bullets hit the ground around him as he was strafed by the pilots who were attempting to kill him. After the attack, he witnessed the carnage done by the planes.
On December 26th, his tank platoon was given the duty of holding the bank along the Agno River while Filipino and American forces crossed the river. During this duty he and other tankers wiped out over 500 Japanese troops who had attempted to cross the river. They also were under constant bombardment by Japanese artillery and mortars. After the tankers disengaged, they fought their way through the barrio of Carmen.
On December 28th, Tony's platoon was given the duty of holding the Calumpit Bridge so that Filipinos and Americans could once again withdraw from the area. They were again under heavy shelling.
Tony's tank company continued to fight the Japanese until they were ordered to surrender on April 9, 1942. With his company, he destroyed his tank and made his way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. He was now a Prisoner of War. From this barrio, he started what became known as "the death march."
During the march, Tony witnessed POWs beaten for no reason. He and the other POWs were denied food and water for no apparent reason. At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. The dead remained standing until the living disembarked the cars at Capas. From there, he walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
As a POW, Tony was held at Camp O'Donnell. This unfinished Filipino Training Camp was pressed into service by the Japanese as a POW camp. There was one water faucet for 12,000 POWs. Men would literally "die" waiting for a drink of water. As many as fifty POWs died each day from disease. The strong would steal the food of the weak. The situation in this camp was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan a month later.
When the camp opened, Tony was sent to the camp. He spent most of the next two years in this camp. As the tide of the war turned against the Japanese, they began to send large numbers of POWs to other parts of their empire. Anton's name was posted for transport in early October 1944.
On October 10th, Tony's POW detachment arrived at the Port Area of Manila. The ship his group was scheduled to sail on was the Hokusen Maru. Since the entire detachment of POWs that Tony was in had not arrived, and the ship was ready to sail, the Japanese boarded another detachment of POWs onto the ship. Tony's detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru.
Tony and 1802 other POWs were packed into the ship's number one hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks. These bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five gallon cans. Since the POWs were packed into the hold so tightly, many of the POWs could not get near the cans. The floor of the hold was covered with human waste.
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. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was later attacked by American planes while sitting in the cove.
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 turned off 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 that the ship be hit by torpedoes and sunk.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on October 24, 1944, about 5:00 PM, some 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. The POWS began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship. The POWs in the hold could hear the torpedoes in the water.
The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship. As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed in front 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 at the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them down.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.
The POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship. Many raided the ship's food lockers to eat their last meal. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed them away with poles and hit them 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. At some point, the ship split in two. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Tony was one of four POWs who found and was able to climb into an abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver the boat to help other POWs. One more POW, who had floated near the boat clinging onto a pole, shouted to them and they pulled him into the boat.
At one point, a Japanese destroyer approached the lifeboat and aimed its guns at the boat. The POWs played dead and the Japanese destroyer pulled away without firing on the lifeboat.
According to these men, the Arisan Maru sank sometime after dark. As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer and fewer until there was silence.
Tony and the others were able to survive because the Japanese had left a barrel of water and some food in the boat. The POWs, after five hours of hard work, were able to rig the boat's sail. Knowing that China was to the west, they steered the boat in that direction.
The morning of their third day in the boat, the POWs came across two Chinese fishing boats. The Chinese rescued the POWs from the lifeboat and gave them food, water, tobacco and towels. They took the men to a fishing village in a area of Free China.
The former POWs were treated like royalty by the Chinese. They were given Chinese clothing to wear. They were taken to other villages and ate banquet after banquet on their 800 mile journey to American lines.
One day, they saw an American flag flying from a flagpole. They were taken to an American airfield and flown over the Himalayan Hump. They found themselves in New York City four days later.
Tony Cichy returned to Minnesota. He was discharged, from the army, on July 16, 1945. He was married Arlence Julia Lillis and became the father of two sons and a daughter. Anton lived in Marion Lake near Dent, Minnesota. He worked as a well driller.
On October 27, 2009, Anton E. Cichy died in Wadena, Minnesota. He was buried at Richville Cemetery in Richville, Minnesota.