Pvt. James William Sallee
Pvt. James William Sallie was the son of Hez Sallee and Sarah Cunnigham-Sallee. He
was born on May 18, 1916 in Mercer County, Kentucky. With his four brothers and one sister,
he grew up in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
James and his brother, Heze, joined the Kentucky National Guard's 38th Divisional Tank Company in Harrodsburg. When the company was federalized on November 25, 1940, he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for one year of military training as part of the 192nd Tank Battalion. When Headquarters Company was created in January 1941, James was transferred from D Company to the new company.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana to take part in maneuvers, It was after the maneuvers that the members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.
James traveled west with HQ Company to Angel Island. There, he received the inoculations required for duty in the Philippine Islands. After stops at Hawaii and Guam, the 192nd arrived in Manila on Thanksgiving Day. Bill and the other members of the battalion were rushed to Ft. Stotsenburg by train. Since their barracks were not finished, they lived in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.
On December 8, 1941, James lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. That morning the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Their tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning, as they stood guard, they watched as American planes filled the sky. Around 12:15 in the afternoon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. B-17's loaded with bombs to attack Formosa were left sitting on the runway.
Around 12:45, the tankers saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. It was only when they saw what looked like confetti and heard bombs exploding did they know the planes were Japanese. This attack wiped out the Army-Air Corps.
James spent the next four months fighting the Japanese as the Filipino and American forces withdrew into the Bataan Peninsula. He most likely took part in the Battle of the Pockets. This mopping up action completely wiped out Japanese forces trapped in the Tuol Pocket.
On April 9, 1942, James became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. Bill and the other tankers stripped their uniforms of anything that identified them as tankers. They had heard that the Japanese were looking for them for what they had done at the pockets. After getting rid of everything that identified them as tankers, the members of the company remained in their bivouac for two days until a Japanese officer and soldiers appeared. They were then ordered out to the road that ran by their encampment.
Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their belongings in front of them. While they were kneeling, Japanese soldiers who were passing them took anything they wanted from the Americans.
James and his company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, James's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese. James and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march he received no water and little food. At San Fernando, he was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. From Capas, James walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink. The conditions in the camp were so bad, that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
James was sent to the new camp, but it is not known if he went out on any work details. What is known is the he was sent to Bilibid Prison in early October 1944 for transport to Japan.
On October 10, 1944, was taken to the Port Area of Manila. He and the other POWs were suppose to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru. Another ship was ready to depart , but all the POWs scheduled to be sent to Japan on the ship had not arrived. James and the rest of his POW detachment were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. With him on the ship were the same members of the 192nd who had been worked with him in Manila. He and 1803 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 when lying down. 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. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died.
On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. 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 in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air attack 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. The hold was partially filled with coal. At this 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, 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 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 cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds. They did not tie down the covers. The Japanese then abandoned ship.
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.
At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 30 POWs 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. Those too weak to swim or unable to swim raided the ship's food lockers. They wanted to die with full stomachs. At some point the ship broke in two. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Five of the POWs found an abandoned lifeboat, but since they had no paddles and the sea was rough, 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 and fewer until there was silence.
Pvt. James William Sallee lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of these men would survive the war. Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. James William Sallee's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.