In Honored Glory!
World War II Honor Roll

William Cummings

Technician 4th Class, 
U.S. Army Air Forces


440th Ordnance Company, Aviation

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: October 24, 1944
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart

TECHNICIAN FOURTH CLASS WILLIAM CUMMINGS was born in 1922 in New Jersey to John and Susannah Cummings. By 1930 the family was renting a home at 434 North 7th Street in Camden NJ, where John Cummings worked as an assistant cashier at the evening paper, the Camden Courier-Post. Besides William, there were four older children, John, Martha, Cecelia, and Grace. The family later relocated to Pine Grove in Clementon NJ. 

William Cummings enlisted in the United States Army prior to June 1940. He was serving in the 440th Ordinance Company, Aviation in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Taken prisoner, by the Japanese, he died when the unmarked prison ship Arisan Maru was sunk on October 24, 1944. The Arisan Maru was sunk 200 miles southeast of Hong Kong. She took two direct hits in the center of the ship and she split in two, and went down quickly. Of approximately 1800 American prisoners of war aboard the Arisan Maru,, only 9 survived, and of the 9, one immediately died, 3 were recaptured, and 5 were rescued by Chinese fishermen and returned to American lines, in Southern China.

The death of William Cummings was reported in the July 7, 1945 edition of the Camden Courier-Post.

        Thanks to Fred Baldassarre of "The Battling Bastards of Bataan" who supplied much of the above information concerning the whereabouts of Technician Fourth Class Cummings and the conditions he endured.

Technician Fourth Class William Cummings died while a prisoner of the Japanese on October 24, 1944, when the unmarked ship he was being transported on was torpedoed off the Philippines. After attempting to lock all prisoners below decks to drown, the Japanese murdered all but 9 who managed to reach the water from the sinking ship. Several other Camden County men met similar fates while prisoners. To learn more of what happened to William Cummings and his comrades, read the outline below, and click on the links provided.

(The purpose of this "Outline of Events" is to provide an overall picture into the plight suffered by the Defenders of Bataan. It is not meant to provide detailed, all-inclusive, information. If you wish detailed information, on any of the steps of this outline, feel free to e-mail, "The Battling Bastards of Bataan". Our intent is to provide you with the truth.)


1. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The American Pacific Naval Fleet suffered heavy losses in lives and ships. The Fleet was incapacitated and could not, in that state, defend American interest in the Pacific Rim and in Asia.

2. Only eight hours later, on Dec. 8, 1941 (due to the difference in time zones), Japan launched an aerial attack on Philippines. Most of the American Air Force, in the Philippines, was destroyed, while the planes were on the ground.

3. A few days later, Japanese forces, led by Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, landed on the Philippines. The Japanese landings were in Northern Luzon and in the Southern Mindanao Islands.

4. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the Filipino-American forces decided to meet the Japanese at their points of landing. This course of action deviated from the original War Plan, devised prior to WW II, which called for the American forces to withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula in case of attack.

5. Inexperienced troops failed to stop the Japanese at these points of landing. MacArthur had to revert back to the original plan, withdrawing the Filipino-American forces into the Bataan Peninsula. By the January 2, 1942, the Northern Luzon forces were in-place for the defense of Bataan.

6. Their mission, in the baseball vernacular, was to "lay down a bunt". They were to stall the Japanese advancement, by forcing them to use much of their troops and resources in the capturing of the Philippines, for as long as possible. This would buy the necessary time needed to rebuild the American Pacific Fleet, which at the time had been crippled, by the Pearl Harbor attack and the bombing of the American Air Bases, in the Philippines.

7. The Filipino-American Defense of Bataan was hampered by many factors:

a) A shortage of food, ammunition, medicine, and attendant materials.

b) Most of the ammunition was old and corroded. The AA shells lacked proper fuses, as did many of the 155mm artillery shells.

c) Tanks, Trucks, and other vehicles were in short supply, as was the gasoline needed to power these items of warfare.

d) Poorly trained Filipino troops, most of who never fired a weapon, were thrown into frontline combat against highly trained Japanese veterans. Americans from non-combatant outfits: such as air corpsmen and, in some instances, even civilians, were formed into provisional infantry units.

8. The Defenders of Bataan continued to hold their ground, without reinforcements and without being re-supplied. Disease, malnutrition, fatigue, and a lack of basic supplies took their toll.

9. On March 11, 1942, Gen. MacArthur was ordered to Australia, Gen. Wainwright took his place in Corregidor, as Commander of the Philippine forces, and Gen. King took Wainwright's place, as Commander of the Fil-American forces in Bataan.

10. Around the latter part of March, Gen. King and his staff assessed the fighting capabilities of his forces, in view of an impending major assault planned by Gen. Homma. Gen. King and his staff determined the Fil-American forces, in Bataan, could only fight at 30% of their efficiency, due to malnutrition, disease, a lack of ammunition and basic supplies, and fatigue. On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched their all out final offensive to take Bataan.

11. On 9 April 1942, Gen. King surrendered his forces on Bataan, after the Japanese had broken through the Fil-American last main line of resistance.

12. The Japanese assembled their captive Fil-American soldiers in the various sectors in Bataan, but mainly at Mariveles, the southern most tip of the Peninsula. Although American trucks were available to transport the prisoners, the Japanese decided to march the Defenders of Bataan to their destinations. This march came to be known as the "Death March".

13. The "Death March" was really a series of marches, which lasted from five to nine days. The distance a captive had to march was determined by where on the trail the captive began the march.

14. The basic trail of the "Death March" was as follows: a 55-mile march from Mariveles, Bataan, to San Fernando, Pangpanga. At San Fernando, the prisoners were placed into train-cars, made for cargo, and railed to Capas, Tarlac, a distance of around 24 miles. Dozens died standing up in the railroad cars, as the cars were so cramped that there was no room for the dead to fall. They were, then, marched another six miles to their final destination, Camp O'Donnell.

15. Several thousand men died on the "Death March". Many died, because they were not in any physical condition to undertake such a march. Once on the march, they were not given any food or water. Japanese soldiers killed many of them through various means. Also, POWs were repeatedly beaten them and treated inhumanely, as they marched.

16. Approximately, 1,600 Americans died in the first forty days in Camp O'Donnell. Almost 20,000 Filipinos died in their first four months of captivity, in the same camp. The healthier prisoners took turns burying their comrades into mass graves, just as they, themselves, would be buried, days or weeks later.

17. Camp O'Donnell did not have the sanitation sub-structure or water supply necessary to hold such a large amount of men. Many died from diseases they had since Bataan. Many caught new diseases, while at the Camp. There was little medicine available to the prisoners. Their inadequate diets also contributed to the high death rate. Diseases such as dysentery, from a lack of safe drinking water, and Beri-Beri, from malnutrition were common to the POWs. The Japanese soldiers continued to murder and miss-treat their captives.

18. Due to the high death rate in Camp O'Donnell, the Japanese transferred all Americans to Cabanatuan, north of Camp O'Donnell, on June 6, 1942, leaving behind five hundred as caretakers and for funeral details. They in-turn were sent to Cabanatuan on July 5, 1942. The Filipino prisoners were paroled, beginning in July, 1942.

19. Cabanatuan was the camp in which the men from Corregidor were first united with the men from Bataan. No Americans* from Corregidor ever made the "Death March" or were imprisoned in Camp O'Donnell. Not having suffered the extreme depravations and conditions endured by the men from Bataan, the prisoners from Corregidor were, overall, much healthier. (*There were Philippine Scouts and some men from the Philippine Army, captured in Corregidor, who were interned in Camp O'Donnell.)

20. Cabanatuan, for most prisoners, ended up being a temporary camp. The Japanese had a policy (which was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention) that prisoners were to be used as a source of labor. They sent most of the prisoners, from Cabanatuan, to various other camps in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Korea, where they were used as slave labor. Some worked in mines, others in farms, others in factories, and others unloading ships in Port Areas, for the remainder of the war. Each subsequent prison camp, after Cabanatuan, has a story of it's own.

21. Left behind, in Cabanatuan, were, approximately, 511 officers and the prisoners too sick to move (and most of those too sick to move never recovered and died in Cabanatuan). Towards the end of the war, most of the men who stayed behind were placed on ships and sent to other camps, in Japan, Korea, and China. The Japanese did not mark these ships, to note that there were prisoners on board. They were bombed and torpedoed by American planes and submarines. Most of these men died, by drowning at sea.

22. Most prisoners who left Cabanatuan in 1942, were sent to the other countries mentioned, in ships appropriately called, "Hell Ships". These "Hell Ships" sailed from Manila to their various destinations in Japan, Korea, or China. As mentioned earlier, the Japanese did not mark these ships as being prison ships, so they were targets for American planes and submarines. Thousands of Americans, who were passengers on these ships, met their deaths by drowning at sea.

23. The conditions on these ships are indescribable and far worse than the conditions endured in "Death March" and Camp O'Donnell.

24. For the remaining three years of their captivity, the Defenders of Bataan were spread throughout the various slave labor camps in Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines, until each camp was individually liberated, in 1945. These prisoners endured the whims of their brutal captors, with similar conditions and miss-treatment as those experienced in the "Death March", and Camp O'Donnell, and the uncertainty of when, if ever, their captivity would end.

25. Coming from the warm tropical climate of the Philippines, the men sent to Japan, Korea, and China had to adjust to the sub-freezing temperatures of Northern Asia, without the proper personal equipment and indoor heating to survive such cold temperatures. In Manchuria, China, the POWs, who died in the winter, were placed in an unheated shack for their bodies to freeze, because the ground was so frozen and hard that they could not be buried until the spring.

26. After they were released, these men were sent to various military hospitals for physical examinations. Many of their ailments, due to malnutrition, went undiagnosed. Many of the systemic fevers they had contracted went undiagnosed. More importantly, the psychological scars they suffered were never recognized. It was not until years after the Vietnam War, the US government recognized "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" or PTSD as a legitimate disorder. It is safe to say, each of these men has carried these scars for the rest of their lives, and indirectly, so did their families.

27. After the war, little was made of the plight of these men. Until recently, few books were written about their ordeal. There were many reasons for this: by the time the Defenders of Bataan came home, the US had already heard a multitude of war stories about the great battles in the Pacific and in Europe. The Defenders of Bataan had surrendered. (Most Americans failed to recognize that the Defenders of Bataan were surrendered as a force, by their Commanding General. They did not surrender as individuals.)

28. After the War, Japan and the US formed an alliance to ensure their mutual economic prosperity and to ensure their mutual security. It became an unwritten policy to play down Japanese War Crimes, satisfied with the meager results produced by the Tokyo and Manila War Crimes trials.

29. Unknown to most: POWs held by the Germans died at a rate of 1.1%. POWs held by the Japanese died at a rate of 37%. The death rate amongst the Defenders of Bataan was much higher, because of their weakened condition, prior to their capture.

30. Germany has acknowledged their war crimes and has made restitution to the victims. Japan has denied everything. In their history books and in their school books, they have re-written history in an effort to falsely show they were the victims of the War, citing the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as proof of their victimization.

After the war and faced with the threat of the Soviet Union, The United States and it's allies permitted Japan to escape the close scrutiny given to the Germans. Known Japanese war criminals went free to, not only, walk the streets of Japan, but the streets of the United States, as well.

Please bring this outline to the attention of your school systems, which are negligent in presenting this part of World War II to the American youth.

Arisan Maru
They were known as Hell Ships, Japanese WWII prisoner of war transport ships.  The Japanese refused to mark these ships, making it impossible for Allied forces to distinguish them from combat ships. As a result, Hell Ships were frequently targeted and torpedoed.  One such ship was the Arisan Maru
The Arisan Maru, a 6,886-ton civilian cargo ship, had a top speed of only 8 knots. On 24 October 1944 the Arisan Maru was torpedoed by an unidentified American submarine.  She sank in the South China Sea in the worst naval disaster in the history of the United States  There were 1,800 --mostly American-- POW's on board.  Only eight survived.
The following sites recount 
the World War II battles of 
the Philippines: 

Outline of Events
Bataan Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico
Pearl Harbor, Bataan 
  & Corregidor Memorial Page
Bataan History
Bataan Death March Survivor

The nightmare for the prisoners of the Arisan Maru, however, did not begin when the ship was torpedoed.  For most, it began in 1942, when the Japanese gained control of the Philippine islands.  Many of these men were survivors of Corregidor and other infamous battles.  Many endured the Bataan Death March.  Then they were subjected to two years of brutality in Japanese prisoner of war camps.
When the men, now walking skeletons, boarded the Arisan at Pier 7 in Manila on 11 October 1944 the Allied Forces were poised to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese.  The only liberation these men would get would be in death.
For More Information: 
Prisoner Passenger List
Survivor Interviews
Japanese Statement
Hell Ships

"One guy died beside me. He
sat there for two days before
they moved him out of there.
He started to smell.  A lot of
guys died on there.  They took
them up and tossed them 
over." --Avery Wilber
November 1992

Conditions on the Arisan Maru, as with other Hell Ships, were appalling.  The holds were filthy and overcrowded. The men were packed in so tightly, it was impossible to lie down.  Many were ill with dysentery and malaria.  Toilet facilities consisted of a few buckets, hoisted and lowered by ropes.  The buckets frequently spilled.   The men were fed small quantities of rice and given some water.  The tropical heat, compounded by a lack of fresh air, was stifling.

It is believed that the Arisan was bound for Takao; however, the ship did not immediately set course for the island.  The Arisan first headed south to Palawan and hid in a sheltered cove, away from Allied attacks.  During a lull in the fighting, the ship returned to Manila and, on 21 October, left the Phillippines as part of Convoy MATA-30.

Submarine Links on the Internet 

US Navy Submarines 1940-45
Submarines on Eternal Patrol
US Submarine Losses

On 24 October, three torpedoes were fired at the Arisan from an Allied submarine, possibly by the USS Snook or USS Shark II. The first two torpedoes missed, one crossing the bow, the other the stern of the ship. 

A survivor that was on deck reports seeing the Japanese  running from one end of the ship to the other.  The third torpedo fired was a direct hit, striking the starboard side mid ship.

The survivors believe that no one was killed in the initial torpedo blast, though many men were injured by fly debris and shrapnel.  The Japanese quickly evacuated the ship, but not before cutting the rope ladder leading to one hold and closing the hatch on the other.  Taking the only two lifeboats, the Japanese survivors were quickly picked up by destroyers in the convoy. 

"...I saw the Japanese 
were beating the American 
prisoners off from the 
destroyers I turned around 
and swam in a general 
direction away from them." --Anton Cichy
5 December 1944 
POW's that were on deck as part of a work detail, quickly released their comrades below.  Rather than abandon ship immediately, many of the prisoners, especially those that could not swim, sought out the galley and feasted on rice, sugar, and catsup.

While the ship was not equipped with sufficient lifeboats, each prisoner did have a life jacket.  Some prisoners got in the water and swam to the Japanese destroyers.  These men were pushed way with long poles and were not pulled out of the water.

As the ship sunk lower into the water, more of the prisoners left the ship and struggled in the water.  Those with the strength clung to floating debris.  As the ship disappeared from view, no one made any attempt to rescue the Americans from the water.
"In my own opinion there is 
extremely little chance of 
anyone else being saved...we
were so far out at sea and
the men were so weak.  The
Japanese were not picking
them up that evening or the
next morning.  We could
not see anybody in the water,
although we tried our best to 
look for them..." --Robert Overbeck 
5 December 1944
The fortunate few that survived the sinking of the Arisan Maru, were incredibly lucky.  American engineer Robert Overbeck, rebuffed in his attempt to board a Japanese destroyer, was floating in the water when an abandoned lifeboat drifted nearby.  Summoning all his strength, he swam to it and climbed into the boat.  He also retrieved a nearby box that contained a sail.  Shortly thereafter, he rescued Sgt. Avery Wilber from the water.

By now, night blanketed the ocean in darkness. Around dawn, three more survivors were pulled into the boat, Pvt. Anton Cichy, M. Sgt. Calvin Graef, and Cpl. Donald Meyer.  No one else was in sight.  The five men set about the task of surviving.  They bailed water out of the boat, found some rations and water on board, and started to rig the sail. 

About this time, a Japanese destroyer appeared.  The men pretended to be dead or dying and the ship eventually left.  Then, the men  set sail in the general direction of China.  On 26 October, the men were rescued by a Chinese fishing junk.  The Chinese treated them very well and helped them eventually reach American Air Corps forces.  Soon the men were home in America.

Convoy MATA-30 consisted
of 17 ships:
The Maru's:  Arisan, Kokuryu, 
Kikusui, Ryofu, Shikisan, 
Taiten, Eiko, No. 1 Shinsei, 
Tenshin, No. 3 Toyo, Eikai,
and Kimikawa.
The destroyers: Harukaze, 
Kuretake, Take
The fleet supply ship: Kurasaki
The Subchaser No. 20
In addition to the five men rescued by the Chinese, there were two other groups of survivors.  On one raft, Warrant Officer Martin Binder survived for four days.  He had nine other companions that chose not to remain on the raft.  None of these men were ever seen again.  Binder was picked up by a Japanese destroyer and was taken to Formosa.
The Arisan was not the only ship
in the convoy sunk.  Also sunk 
were the Kimikawa, Kokuryu, 
Kikusui, Tenshin, Shikisan, Taiten,
No. 1 Shinsei, and the Eiko.
The third group of survivors consisted of two men, Cpl. Glen Oliver and Sgt. Phillip Brodski. They survived the first night clinging to wreckage.  Later they found an abandoned raft and drifted until 28 October, when they were recaptured by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa.
The last survivor of the Arisan, Pfc. Charles Hughes, was also recaptured by the Japanese.  Hughes' story is not known, as he died shortly after being recaptured.
The survivors in Japanese custody were subjected to intensive questioning by the Army and later transported to a camp in Formosa, where they remained for the rest of the war.
To learn more about the Arisan Maru, please visit the following link:


       The Battling Bastards of Bataan   


Presidential Proclamation 4926  
American Salute to Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Memorial Day, 1982

Ben Steele's Personal Chronicle From Bataan To Hiroshima 

Bataan Project

American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor, Inc