Tec 4 Virgil J. Holt
What is known about T/4 Virgil J. Holt is that he was the son of Allie Holt and was born in 1916 in Raleigh County, West Virginia. His father died and his mother remarried. It is known he had a brother, sister, and half-sister. His step-father also died, so he and his brother went to work as coal miners.
Virgil was inducted into the army on January 1, 1941, at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, and assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion. A Company of the battalion was later reorganized as the 17th Ordnance Company.
In September 1941, 17th Ordnance was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the Provisional Tank Group. On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Virgil lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. He spent the next four months servicing the tanks of the the tank group.
On April 9, 1942, Virgil became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. There, the POWs were boarded onto small wooden boxcars that could hold forty men. One hundred men were packed into each car. The dead remained standing until the living left the cars. He then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Camp which the Japanese pressed into service as a POW Camp. As many as fifty men died each day. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. Fred was sent to Cabanatuan when the new camp opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.
On October 26, 1942, Virgil was selected for a work detail to be sent to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs were sent by train from Cabanatuan to Manila. They were held in Bilibid Prison for two days before being boarded onto the Erie Maru. The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao. Virgil arrived on the Island of Mindanao on November 7th. Virgil was one of 650 POWs who built an airfield at Lasang, while 100 POWs built an airfield south of Davao.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong. The barracks of the POWs were only 400 yards from the runway. The POWs believed that this was done so that American planes would kill their own countrymen.
The POWs either built runways or were sent to a quarry to mine coral for the runways. The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it until trucks that were driven to the airfield. For their work, they enlisted men received five cents for twelve hours of work. The POWs simply slowed down to slow down the work. The Japanese resorted to torture to get the POWs to work harder.
One night the POWs heard the sound of a plane. From the sound of the engine, they knew it was American. It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years. As the plane dove on the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated silently. On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men stayed on the island until August 19, 1944.
Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese posted guards with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily. The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments. The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.
During this time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup of rice a day. The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables. Many ate the weeds that grew inside the camp until it was bare.
Air raids soon were nightly events. Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks. Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped.
On that day, the POWs were lined up by fours. The outside men had rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape. They were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon. They were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that evening, the ship sailed.
As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves. Many of the prisoners became seasick. They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs. The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. An American plane flew over the ship. Moments later bombs exploded near the ship. The sound of machinegun fire was heard by the POWs. The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air. Over the next three days, there were several more alerts. Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.
On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived. The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship's holds were terrible. The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with salt water.
It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. Someone misinterpreted the order as saying the ship would be transporting "750 troops" instead of "750 prisoners of war" to Manila. The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.
On September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru. 250 POWs were put in the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were put into its larger hold. That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking an shaking it. The POWs prayed for the ship to be hit.
The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 a.m. Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines. The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076.
The POWs were no longer allowed on deck. Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship. For the next two days the ship made good time. It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes. Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.
At 7:37 p.m. the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two torpedoes at the Shinyo Maru. The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold. Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship. Some of the POWs were blown out of the hold and into the water by the explosion. There was a gapping hole in the ship's side. Those POWs still alive saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water.
The surviving POWs found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion. As the water level rose, they were able to climb out. Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles. As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off. The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water.
The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits. But, the hold remained dry. Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore. As they swam, they were fired upon by the same seven Japanese officers.
According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle and split in two. It then sank into the water.
Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine. When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them. The planes stopped strafing when they realized that there were Japanese in the water with the POWs. The one good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machineguns and fired on the POWs. Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water. If they found a man, they shot him. What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them.
The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion. About 30 men gave up after hearing this. According to one man who escaped after surrendering, the POWs had their hands tied to the ship's rail, and the Japanese shot each POW in the back of the head. They then pushed the bodies overboard.
Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944. Tec 4 Virgil Holt was not one of these men.
Tec 4 Virgil Holt is listed as dying on September 7, 1944, during the sinking of the Shinyo Maru. On December 31, 1944, the United States acknowledged that the sinking of the Shinyo Maru was a result of the content of a radio message being misinterpreted.
Since T/4 Virgil J. Holt was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.