Pvt. Lester C. Cale
Lester C. Cale was born in 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the son
of Alfred E. Cale & Lillian Radloff-Cale. He was second oldest of three sons.
Lester became a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion as its members prepared for duty in the Philippine Islands. It is known that he was from the Cleveland, Ohio area and worked for a railroad. After being inducted into the Army on March 28, 1941, Lester became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion in 1941. He trained with the battalion at Fort Knox and in the late summer went to Camp Polk, Louisiana when the battalion was sent there.
It appears that the reason the 753rd had been sent to Camp Polk was to supply replacements for members of 192nd released from federal duty. Lester and his friends, Peter Pirnat and Andy Aquila, volunteered to go overseas with the battalion. Their reason for doing this was that the three friends wanted to see the world. Having been trained as a truck driver, Lester was assigned to Headquarters Company.
During the Battle of Bataan, Lester drove supplies to the various companies of the 192nd. When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese, Lester became a Prisoner Of War. Lester with Harry Norowul was selected to remain on Bataan to drive cars and trucks for the Japanese. After five days, the Japanese ended the detail.
Lester took part in the Death March and was held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell. Since so many POWs were dying, Lester, Peter Pirnet and Andy Aquila volunteered to return to Bataan to rebuild bridges. The bridge detail first worked at Calaun and then Batangas. They were then sent north to Candelaria. In each of the towns, the Filipino people did their best to provide food and medicine to the men on the detail.
Half way through the detail, the soldiers were divided into two groups, one group was sent to a sawmill to cut timbers for the bridges. The other group was sent to build bridges. Lester was sent to the sawmill. While at the sawmill, guerillas attacked and wiped out the Japanese guards. To their dismay, the POWs were too sick to escape. All but one man remained behind.
When the Japanese retook control of the sawmill, they enforced the "Blood Brother" rule. Each POW would be given a number. The five prisoners with numbers higher or lower than the escaped prisoner would be executed.
The ranking officer on the detail had to select ten POWs for execution. No matter what he did, he could not win. He finally picked ten men who slept closest to the escaped prisoner. Those who were selected were forced to dig their own graves. After they had finished, they were stood in the graves and were shot. One of the men survived the first shot. He stood up and spat at the Japanese guards. He was shot a second time and died. The other POWs were forced to watch the execution.
When this detail was over, Lester returned to Cabanatuan. While being held there, he was sent out to build runways at Clark Field. After this detail ended, Lester again returned to Cabanatuan. In September of 1943, Lester was selected for another detail. This detail was sent to Las Pinas to build an airfield. The POWs built the runways with picks and shovels.
On June 6, 1944, many POWs from this detail were transported on the Yashu Maru to Cebu. There, they were transferred to the Singoto Maru and returned to Manila. He may have been returned to Cabanatuan or sent directly to Bilibid Prison. The prison was the processing center for POWs being sent to Japan or another occupied country.
In October of 1944, Lester's name was placed on a POW list for shipment to Japan. He and the other men were marched to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. Although they were scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru the POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11, 1944. This was done because the other POWs had not all arrived at the pier. All 1803 POWs were packed into the ship's second hold which was large enough for 400 men. Within 48 hours, five men died.
The ship sailed but instead of heading for Japan, they headed south and anchored in a cove off the Island of Palawan. The reason the ship was sent there was to prevent it from being attacked by American planes. While in the cove, the Japanese opened a second hold and moved 800 POWs into it. They did this because they realized that the ship was becoming a death ship.
On October 20th the Arisan Maru returned to Manila Bay. While the ship had been off Palawan, the port area had been bombed by American planes. The ship joined a convoy of eleven other ships. The convoy sailed on October 21st for Formosa.
Around 5:00 pm on the 24th, twenty POWs were on deck preparing dinner. Suddenly, the Japanese on deck ran to the stem of the ship. A torpedo passed missing the ship. The Japanese then ran to the stern of the ship and watched as a second torpedo missed the ship. Two more torpedoes were spotted heading directly at the ship. Both hit amidships. The ship shook and came to a stop.
To get the POWs on deck back into the holds, the guards began shooting at them. Once the POWs were in the holds, the guards cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds. Since orders were given to abandon ship, they did not tie the covers down.
After the Japanese were gone, some POWs in the ship's first hold made it on deck and reattached the rope ladders to both holds. The POWs climbed out of the holds to the deck. Some men realizing the ship was slowly sinking swam to the nearest Japanese ship which was picking up Japanese survivors. When they reached the ship, the crew pushed the POWs away with poles. Those who tried to climb onto the ship were hit with clubs.
Those POWs who could not swim, raided the ship's food locker and ate their last meal. Others tried to find anything that floated in an attempt to save their lives. At some point, the ship split in two.
Five POWs found an abandoned lifeboat. The boat had no sail or oars, so they could not maneuver it. According to the surviving POWs, the Arisan Maru sunk sometime after dark. The cries for help could be heard all around them. Finally, there was silence
Of the 1803 prisoners who had been boarded onto the ship, only nine survived its sinking, Eight would survive the war.
Pvt. Lester C. Cale died when the Arisan Maru sank in the South China Sea on October 24, 1944. Since he was lost at sea, his name appears on TheTablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
The photo at the top of this page shows Pvt. Lester C. Cale firing a machinegun at Ft. Knox. Next to him is Andy Aquila of B Company. When the photo was taken, both men were members of the 753rd Tank Battalion.