Pfc. George Zimmerman
Pfc. George Zimmerman was born in Yugoslavia in 1915 to Philip &
Magalene Zimmerman. He was the youngest of the couple's three
children. At some point, his family immigrated to the
United States, where they settled in Madison, Ohio, and attended Newman and Simpson Schools. In
1940, George was living at 298 Central Avenue in Mansfield and working at
a pump company.
On January 27, 1941 George was inducted into the United States Army at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio. From there, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for basic training. Upon arriving at Ft. Knox, he was assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
George was sent to cook's school while at Ft. Knox. It was while training with his company that it was discovered that he was an excellent tank driver. Not too long after this, he was reassigned to a tank.
In the fall of 1941, George took part in the Louisiana maneuvers from August to September. It was after the maneuvers, on a side of a hill, that George and the other men learned they were being sent overseas.
George traveled west with C 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. George 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, George 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.
George 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, George became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. George 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.
George and his fellow POWs made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. There, they started what became know as the death march. Because of their poor diets, most of the POWs were already sick. After they started the march, they went days without food and water. This resulted with the deaths of hundreds of POWs. When the POWs reached San Fernando, they were herded into a bull-pin. They spent the night sleeping in the human waste of the previous POWs who had been held there before them.
The next morning, George and the others were packed into small wooden boxcars for the trip to San Fernando. The cars could hold four horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The temperature in the cars was over 100 degrees. Men suffocated from lack of air. Those who died during the trip remained standing. At Capas, the POWs left the cars. As they did, the bodies of the dead fell to the ground. George walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army base. There was only one water faucet for 12,000 POWs. Men literally died of thirst while waiting in line for a drink. As many as 50 POWs died each day. The conditions in the camp were so bad, that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
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 George'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, George's group was put on their ship. With him on the ship were the same members of B Company who had worked with him in Manila.
George and 1805 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 35 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 broke in two and sank sometime after dark. As the night went on, the cries for help grew fewer and fewer until there was silence.
Pfc. George Zimmerman lost his life when the Arisan Maru sank in the South China Sea. Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.
The American Legion Post in Mansfield, Ohio, was named after George Zimmerman.