Pfc. James Melvin Carter
James M. Carter was born on August 25, 1919, and was the son of Henry D.
Carter and Regina Lois Ballard-Carter. With his six brothers and
two sisters, he grew up in Mayfield, Kentucky. He attended Wright
Chapel School through the eighth grade but did not attend high school.
As a young man, he worked as a farmer growing tobacco and corn and
raising dairy cows and pigs.
On January 22, 1941, James was inducted into the U. S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. Upon arriving at Ft. Knox, James was assigned to D Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The company had originally been a Kentucky National Guard tank company from Harrodsburg, and the army attempted to fill out its roster with men from its home state.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers on the side of a hill at Camp Polk, James and his company learned that they were being sent overseas. The soldiers received furloughs home before returning to Camp Polk for transport to San Francisco.
When they arrived in San Francisco, the soldiers were taken by ferry to Angel Island. On the island, James and his battalion received inoculations and awaited shipment to the Philippine Islands.
The 192nd sailed for Hawaii, Guam and the Philippine Islands. When they arrived in the Philippines, the soldiers were taken to Ft. Stotsenburg where they lived in tents since their barracks were not finished.
The morning of December 8th, James and his company heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. They were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers. As they sat on their tanks, they watched American planes fill the sky. At 12:30, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. Fifteen minutes later, Japanese planes bombed the airfield destroying the U. S. Army Air Corps.
For the next four months, James took part in the fight to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. It is not known if James surrendered on that date or if he escaped to Corregidor and became a Prisoner of War on May 6th.
It is known that James was held as a POW at Cabanatuan and Bilibid Prison in the Philippines. He remained in the Philippines until late 1944. In early October, Japan attempted to send as many POWs to other parts of its empire to prevent them from being liberated. James was one of the POWs selected to shipment to Japan.
On October 11, 1944, James was marched to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. Upon arrival at the docks, the Japanese discovered that another group of POWs being transported had not completely arrived. Since the group of POWs James was in had its full compliment of men, his group was boarded onto the Arisan Maru in place of this first group of POWs. 1805 POWs were packed into the first hold of the ship which could hold 400 men. With him were John Cummins, Robert Cloyd, Ancel Crick, James Sallee, John Babb and William Jardot. All had been members of D Company at Ft. Knox. The conditions were so bad that five men died during the first 48 hours.
The Arisan Maru sailed but took a southerly route away from Formosa. It dropped anchor in a cove off the Island of Palawan. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes on Manila, but the ship was later attacked by American planes and escaped damage. Due to the heat in the holds, the POWs developed heat blisters. To relieve the situation, some resourceful prisoners hooked up the blowers in the hold to an electrical line. Doing this brought fresh air into the hold. Two days later, the Japanese discovered what had been done and cut the power.
The Japanese finally acknowledge the conditions in the hold and opened the ship's second hold which was partially filled with coal. Six hundred POWs were transferred into it.
During the ten days the prisoners were held in the holds, the Japanese formed a convoy. By this time, the men began to pray that the ship would be sunk by an American submarine. On October 21st the ship returned to Manila. On October 23rd, the twelve ship convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. Although American military intelligence knew the POWs were on some of the ships, the American submarine crews had no idea what cargo the ships were carrying. The Japanese also refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on October 24, 1944, about dinner time, some of the POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's holds. The ship was near Shoonan, off the coast of China. The POWs on deck heard the sounds of alarms and watched as the Japanese guards ran to the bow of the ship. A torpedo missed the bow passing in front of the ship. A few moments later the guards ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo past behind the ship. There was a sudden jar caused by the ship being hit amidships by two torpedoes. The ship shook and stopped dead in the water. Those POWs in the holds who were near where the torpedoes hit were killed instantly.
The Japanese guards began beating the POWs who were on deck with their rifles. The men climbed back into the holds for safety. As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the holds and covered the holds with the hatch covers. But for some reason, they did not tie the covers down. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattach and lower the rope ladders to the other men in the hold. They also reattached and dropped rope ladders to the POWs in the first hold.
Many of the POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Those who could not swim, raided the ship's kitchen and ate their last meal. Most of the POWs survived the attack but died because the Japanese refused to rescue them. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them. Those POWs who reached ships were beaten with clubs to keep them off the ships or pushed underwater with poles to drown them.
According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru slowly sunk lower into the water after splitting in tow. The ship split in two and sunk sometime after dark. Cries for help could be heard for hours until there was silence.
Pvt. James M. Carter lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the 1805 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of these men would survive the war. Since he was lost at sea, the name of Pvt. James M. Carter is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. He was awarded the Purple Heart.