Saturday, November 11, 2017

Love To All The Family. Don't Worry About Me.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, four of Minnie (Hawks) Barber's sons enlisted in the service. Three of them served overseas along with her eldest grandson.

My second great-grandmother was immensely proud of them and displayed a four star service flag in the window of her Kansas home, denoting her sons' contributions to their country.

As war ravaged the globe, Minnie busied herself with household chores, baking, and letter writing to her sons and grandson; anything to preoccupy her mind and keep from thinking about the dangers they faced.

Prisoner of War
According to enlistment records in the National Archives, Minnie's nephew Albert E. Hawks joined the Army on February 11, 1941. Following the United States' declaration of war later that year, he was shipped to the Philippines to serve in the Southwest Pacific Theater.

Albert E. Hawks
In May 1942, he was captured by Japanese forces after their victory over the Allies at the Battle of the Corregidor in the Bay of Manila. The first report of his capture was made on May 7, 1942.

In August 1943, Minnie's hometown newspaper, The Plainville Times, reported that Albert's parents in Topeka had received a card from their son - the first they had heard from him since April 1942.

According to the newspaper, "The message was headed 'Imperial Japanese Army,' and after being censored, read: 'I am interned in a H.Q. military prison camp of P.I. My health is fair. I am uninjured. I am under treatment. Love to all of the family. Don't worry about me.'"

While a relief to hear from Albert, the family certainly continued to worry.

In April 1944, the Plainville Times again reported on Albert. According to the paper, "His parents have recently received two messages from the government informing them that he had talked over the short-wave radio two different times. He said he was well and had received one of their packages and several letters."

Hell Ship Attacked
In October 1944, Albert was among 1,800 prisoners of war who were loaded onto the Japanese hell ship Arisan Maru with severely inhumane conditions.

According to one account, the ship's holds "contained three levels of wooden shelves with about three feet between shelves. They could barely stand or move in the space ... The men received scant amounts of rice and water while on board. The heat proved unbearable, and about a third of the men suffered from dysentery and malaria. The stench grew steadily in the confined quarters. The Japanese dispensed no medicine. They did however issue life preservers which served to increase the fear of them. Many men lost their spirit and will to live and had fits. The other men had to hold them down."

In the early evening of October 24, 1944, the Arisan Maru was torpedoed by the USS Shark.

According to an account by William Bowen, "The Arisan carried no markings or flag indicating that it was carrying Allied prisoners. The Americans had no way of recognizing the Arisan as a prison ship. It was hit aft of midships causing the ship to split open with the rear section sinking downward into the sea. A torpedo is thought to have hit in number three hold where Japanese troops and civilians were located."

Japanese forces evacuated the sinking ship, but made no effort to save their prisoners. In fact, they actively worked to prevent escape by cutting rope ladders and closing hatches to the ship's holds.

Fewer than ten prisoners survived the sinking. Albert was among the victims.

Military records include reports that Albert survived the initial torpedo attack, but was shot as he swam away from the sinking Arisan. His remains were never recovered. He was the only member of the Hawks family not to return home from the war.

For his service, Albert was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. His captivity - over 900 days - was among the longest recorded during World War II.

His name is inscribed on a memorial in Manila, a simple reminder of the sacrifice one Kansas family made to save the world from Fascism.


  1. Wow! Thank you Uncle, or cousin, Albert for your service. Great article Michael!

  2. What a terrible, terrible story. And how painful it must have been for his family, knowing that US arms contributed to his death. I am so sorry for your family.

    1. It does make the story more tragic. I wondered how common it was for warring factions to identify their ships as carrying POWs during WWII.