Pvt. Thomas Edward Hurtt
Pvt. Thomas E. Hurtt was born in Kemper County,
Mississippi, on October 18,
1912, to William
J. & Alice Hurtt. His mother died and his father remarried. He had one brother, two half-brothers, and five
half-sisters. He was joined the army in September, 1939, and did his
basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He into the reenlisted on May 7,
1941, and was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.
In September 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was there that Thomas volunteered to become a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The battalion had received orders for overseas duty, and he replaced a National Guardsman who had been released from federal service. He was assigned to A Company.
Thomas traveled west with the battalion to Angel Island. There, he received inoculations and was sent to the Philippine Islands. His battalion arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. A little over two weeks later, he survived the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield just ten hours after Pearl Harbor. During the attack the tankers could do little more than watch, since they did not have the weapons to fight planes.
On January 7, 1942, his company was parked along the road being used to enter Bataan. It was night and the company waited for orders to move. Receiving none, many of the tankers went to sleep. Col. Ted Wickord went looking for the company when they did not cross the bridge, since the engineers wanted to blow the bridge. Wickord found the company and woke them. A Company was the last American unit to enter Bataan. After they did, the bridge was blown by the engineers.
Thomas spent the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. One night, A Company had bivouacked on both sides of a road. At some point, their sentries woke the rest of the company because they heard troops approaching. The tankers grabbed their machine guns and waited. Using the tanks for protection, they watched as a Japanese bicycle battalion road right into the middle of their bivouac.
The members of the company opened up on the Japanese with everything they had. There were flashes of light, screaming, and the sound of the wounded crying for help. When A Company ceased firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
On April 9, 1942, Thomas became a Prisoner of War. He took part in the death march and was held at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanatuan. During his time as a POW, he was sent to Batangas, Batangas, to build runways at an airfield.
As American forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began sending large numbers of POWs to other parts of the empire. In early October, he was sent to Manila for shipment to Japan. When Thomas' group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila, on October 10, 1944, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. The POWs had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusan Maru, but since one of the POW groups, in his detachment, had not arrived on time, and the ship was ready to sail, the Japanese switched the POW groups and the Hokusen Maru sailed.
Thomas' POW group was crammed into the first hold of the ship. They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Those who used the wooden bunks along the hull found that once they laid down, the bunks were so close together that they could not sit up in them. Five men died in the hold in the first twenty-four hours.
On October 10, 1944, the ship sailed. Instead of heading toward Formosa, it headed south to Palawan Island. There, the ship dropped anchor in a cove. This was done to avoid American planes. While it was there, the Port of Manila were bombed by American planes.
It was during this time that the POWs figured out how to turn the hold's ventilation fans by wiring them into the ship's lighting system. Although the Japanese had removed the lights, they had not turned off the power. For two days conditions in the hold improved because the POWs had fresh air. When the Japanese discovered what the POWs had done, they cut the power to the hold.
The Japanese attempted to improve the conditions in the hold by moving 800 POWs to one of the other holds. The POWs were put in this hold on top of the coal that was already in it.
Returning to Manila on October 21st, the Arisan Maru waited in the harbor while the Japanese formed a convoy. During this time, the prisoners remained in the holds of the ship. On October 23rd, the Arisan Maru joined a convoy of twelve ships bound for Formosa. The ship proceeded toward Formosa the evening of Tuesday, October 24, 1944.
It was almost dinner and twenty POWs were on deck cooking dinner. The ship was in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. According to the survivors, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. A second torpedo missed the stern of the ship. Two more torpedoes hit the ship amidships. The ship immediately stopped in its tracks.
The Japanese abandoned ship, but cut the rope ladders to the ship's holds before they left. A few POWs managed to get out of the second hold and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds to the other POWs.
Those POWs who could swim attempted to escape the sinking ship by clinging to rafts, hold hatches, flotation belts, flotsam and jetsam. Many of those who could not swim remained on the ship and gorged themselves with food from the ship's food locker.
Some POWs attempted to swim to nearby Japanese destroyers. They were shot at, clubbed, or pushed away with poles or clubbed. The destroyers pulled away leaving the Americans to fend for themselves.
After several hours, the ship split in two. A few hours later it sunk. According to the survivors, the cries for help grew fainter and fainter. Then there was silence.
Pvt. Thomas E. Hurtt died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru in the South China Sea on October 24, 1944. Since he was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.