Sgt. Vincent Russell Brown
Sgt. Vincent R. Brown was
born in 1917 in Greene County, Ohio. He was the son of Blaine
& Marie Condon-Brown. With his two sisters, he grew up on
Route 20 in Mentor Township, Lake County, Ohio. He was known as
"Russell" to his family. When he was inducted into the U. S. Army on
March 1, 1941, in Cleveland, Ohio, he was working in a rubber processing
Vincent was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. It was at that time that he was assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Company. The tank company originated as an Ohio National Guard Tank Company from Port Clinton. He was nicknamed, "Brownie" by the other members of the company.
In August of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after the maneuvers, on the side of a hill, at Camp Polk that the battalion learned it was being sent overseas. Many of the battalion's members received leaves to say their goodbyes to family and friends.
Over four different train routes the companies of the battalion made their way to San Francisco. Once their, they were ferried to Angel Island. On the island, they were given inoculations and physicals.
The 192nd sailed from San Francisco for the Philippine Islands. After stops at Hawaii and Guam, they arrived at Manila on Thanksgiving Day. They tankers road a train to Fort Stotsenburg. There they were housed in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. For the next seventeen days they prepared their tanks for maneuvers.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just ten hours earlier. They were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, planes approached the airfield from the north. Vincent and the other tankers watched and counted them. They believed the planes were American. It was when the bombs began exploding that they knew the planes were Japanese.
The tankers fought the best they could, but they did not have the weapons to fight aircraft. After the attack they witnessed the carnage done by the Japanese planes.
For the next for months, the tanks fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. On April 8th, they received word of the surrender the next day. The tankers circled their tanks and destroyed them by firing armor piecing shells into their engines, opening their gasoline cocks and dropping grenades into each tank. The next day they became Prisoners of War.
Vincent and his company made its way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. There, they started the death march. Since most of the POWs were already sick with dysentery or malaria, it was more of a trudge than a march. They received little food and water during the march.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men. Each car held 100 POWs. The POWs who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall down. When the train reached Capas, the living left the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Camp. It had one water faucet for the entire camp. The Japanese pressed it into service as a POW camp. Conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as 50 POWs died each day. Men died standing in line for a drink of water.
The situation in the camp was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Vincent spent time in this camp. When the Japanese gave out red cross packages, the situation improved for the POWs.
Vincent was selected for what became known as the Pasay Work Detail. The POWs were house in the Pasay School. Each morning the POWs had to walk to the Nichols Airfield where they were used to extend the runways. The only tools they had to do this were picks and shovels. Because of the treatment the POWs received from the guards, this was considered one of the worse work details.
In late 1944, when it became apparent to the Japanese that the invasion of the Philippines was near, most of the POWs on this detail were sent to the Port Area of Manila. The Japanese were attempting to send the healthy POWs to Japan, and other countries, to work as slave labor and prevent them from being liberated by advancing American forces.
When Vincent's group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila on October 10, 1944, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. They had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru, but since one of the POW groups had not arrived on time to be boarded, Vincent's group was put on their ship. With him on the ship were the other members of C Company.
Vincent and 1802 other POWs were packed into the ship's number two 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 while laying down. Those standing also 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.
On October 11th, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from Formosa. Within the first 48 hours, five POWs had died. 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. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes, but the ship was attacked by American planes while in the cove.
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 turned off the power to the lights. Some of the prisoners were able to wire the ship's blowers into the light 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. At this point, one POW was shot while attempting to escape.
The Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20th. There, it joined a twelve ship 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 making them targets for American submarines. The POWs in the hold became 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 of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's two holds. The ship was near Shoonan Island off the coast of China. Suddenly, sirens and other alarms were heard. The men inside the 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 ran to the bow of the ship. As the POWs watched, a torpedo passed in front of the bow of the ship. Moments later, the Japanese ran to the ship's stern and watched as a second torpedo passed behind the ship. 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 aimed his machinegun and began firing at the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds but did not tie them down.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds, but since they had not tied down the hatch covers, 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. Many raided the ship's food lockers and ate their last meals.
A group of 30 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they pushed them away with poles and hit them 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 of the 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. At some point, the ship split 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, 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 until there was silence.
Sgt. Vincent R. Brown 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, Sgt. Vincent R. Brown's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.