Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti
Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti was born in 1920
in France to Frank & Nina DiBenedetti. At some point, his family immigrated to the United
States where his brother was born. The family resided at 843
South Main Street in Salinas. He graduated from Salinas High
School and worked as a bookkeeper at the Salinas National Bank.
Ed enlisted in the California National Guard at Salinas. A little over a month later he was inducted into federal service on February 10, 1941 at Salinas Army Air Base. With his company, now designated C Company, 194th Tank Battalion he traveled to Fort Lewis in Washington state. Three months later, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky to attend radio school.
In September 1941, the 194th was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the attempt to strengthen the American Military Forces in the islands. A little over two months after arriving in the Philippines, Ed lived through the Japanese bombing of Clark Airfield.
The morning of December 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At 12:30 the planes landed and their pilots went to lunch.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runway did the tankers know the planes were Japanese.
For the next four months Ed and the others fought a delaying action against the Japanese. His tank company was sent south of Manila to fight Japanese forces that had landed near Lucban area. There, they fought Japanese forces advancing on Manila.
Ed's company slowly fell back to Bataan and spent the next four months fighting the Japanese. On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. Upon arriving in the barrio, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. When the trained arrived at Capas the dead fell out of the cars as the living climbed out.
Ed was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell. This unfinished Filipino military base was pressed into service by the Japanese as a POW camp. Officially, it was renamed Capas POW Camp. The conditions in the camp were so bad, that as many as 50 POWs died each day. Seeing that something had to be done, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Ed was sent to this camp.
It is not known if Ed went out on any work details, but it is known that in October 1944, Ed was sent to Bilibid Prison for shipment to Japan. On October 10, 1944, Ed was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. He and 1805 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 attacked by American planes.
During the time off Palawan, the ship was attacked by American planes. 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 that the ship 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 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 hold, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds, but they did not tie down the hatch covers. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders into the holds. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both 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.
Five of the POWs found a abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. 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.
Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the 1805 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of these men would survive the war. Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Edmund N. DiBenedetti's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.