Pfc. Donald Eugene Knipshield


    Pfc. Donald Eugene Knipshield was born on August 31, 1921, to Mae Loretta Conroy-Knipshield and William Isaac Knipshield in Janesville, Wisconsin.  He was one of the couple's five children.  The family's home was on Parker Avenue on the Rock River in Janesville.
    Donald attended St. Mary's Grade School and later Janesville High School.  He graduated from high school in 1939.  After high school, he worked as a typist for a lumber yard.  While he was working, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Divisional Tank Company, with his friend, Wesley Elmer.  The company was headquartered in the armory in Janesville.  He did this to earn some extra spending money.
    On November 25, 1940, Donald's tank company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  The company traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where it joined three other tank companies to form the 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion.  For the almost a year, the battalion trained at Ft. Knox.  While he was at Ft. Knox, Donald's brother, Bill, visited him.  He was the last member of Donald's family to see him.
    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  It was after these maneuvers, on the side of a hill, that the members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.  Although many members of the battalion received furloughs home, Donald remained at Camp Polk.
    Traveling west by train, the 192nd arrived in San Francisco.  They were ferried to Angel Island and given physicals and inoculated.  The battalion sailed for the Philippine Islands and arrived in Manila after stops at Hawaii and Guam.
    Being that the battalion expected to take part in maneuvers, Donald and the other tankers spent the next two weeks loading ammunition belts and cleaning the guns on their tanks.  The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed the members of his company that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.  He then order his company to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
    Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers were getting lunch when they noticed a formation of planes approaching the field from the north.  At first the tankers admired the planes.  It was only when they saw and heard bombs falling from the planes did they know that the planes were Japanese.
    Donald and the other tankers fired on the planes with their guns, but since their weapons were not meant to fight planes, they could do little more then seek cover.  After the attack, Donald was a witness to the carnage that had been done.
    For the next four months, Donald and the other members of A Company fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.  One night, after A Company had made its bivouac on both sides of a road, and not too long after dark, one of the tankers on guard duty noticed some movement down the road.  Whatever was the cause of the movement was approaching them.
    The tankers grabbed their guns and sat in silence behind their tanks.  As they watched, they saw a Japanese bicycle battalion riding into their encampment.  When they were given the order, the company opened fire with everything they had.  How long the battle lasted in not known.  The night was a blur of flashes from the guns, and the screaming of men seemed to last for hours.  What is known is that when the tankers ceased firing, they had completely wiped out the Japanese bicycle battalion.
    The morning of April 9, 1942, Donald and his company received the news of the surrender of all Filipino and American forces on Bataan.  Donald's company circled their tanks in a ravine and fired an armor piercing shell into the motor of each tank.  They then opened the gasoline cocks and dropped hand grenades into each turret.
    Sometime after this, A Company made their way to Mariveles.  It was from Mariveles, at the southern tip of Bataan, that Donald began what became known as the death march.  Donald made his way to San Fernando.  There, he and the other Prisoners of War were packed into small boxcars and rode to Capas.  At Capas, the POWs climbed out of the boxcars.  The bodies of the dead fell out as they did so.  From Capas, Donald and the other POWs walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Donald's life as a POW is vague.  It is known that he was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan and may have remained there for over two years.  In early October 1944, Donald was selected for transport to Japan.  He was sent to Bilibid Prison and received a physical.
    On October 10, 1944, Donald and other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila.  They were boarded onto the Arisan Maru and put in the ship's second hold.  The ship sailed on October 11th, but instead of heading to Formosa, the ship sailed south away from the island.  It would anchor in a cove off the Island of Palawan to avoid American planes.
    While the ship was in the cove, it came under attack from American planes.  During the attack, one POW was killed by the Japanese while attempting to escape.  On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila and joined other ships to form a convoy.
    The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th.  After loading bananas and other food, it set sail a second time for Taikao, Formosa the night of October 21st.  This time they joined convoy which was composed of twelve ships.  The second day in the holds, the Japanese issued lifejackets to the POWs.  According to survivors, all this did was reinforced the Americans fear of being killed by their own countrymen.
    The convoy was near Shoonan off the coast of China when it came under attack by nine American submarines.  The submarines began picking off the ships one at a time.  The crews of the submarines did not know that American POWs were in the holds of some of the ships.  Only three of the 37 ships in the convoy would make it safely to Formosa.
    About 5:50 pm on October 24, 1944, a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner.  Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark.  One of the torpedoes hit the ship in its third hold.  There were no POWs in this hold. The ship stopped dead in its tracks.
    The Japanese began abandoning ship.  Before they left, they cut the rope ladders that went into the holds.  Some of the POWs managed to get out of the second hold and reattached and lowered the ladders to the POWs.
    According to surviving POWs, the ship split in half but remained afloat.  All of the POWs had survived the attack. About 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them away with poles and hit them with clubs.   Those who could not swim raided the food stores for a last meal.  These men wanted to die with full stomachs.
    As the ship got lower in the water, some of the POWs attempted to survive by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, clinging to rafts, and clinging to other flotsam and jetsam.  The majority of the POWs still were on the ship.  The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark. The surviving POWs stated that the cries for help slowly faded away.  Most of the POWs, if not all, were dead.
In the end, only nine men out of the 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking.  Only eight of these men survived the war.  Pfc. Donald E. Knipshield was not one of them.  He was 23 years old.
    Since Pfc. Donald Eugene Knipshield was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.  A memorial to Donald also was created by his brother, Bill, at the family's gravesite in Janesville.

 

 

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