New Memorial Dedicated at Riverton Veteran’s Park

American Flags were presented to families whose loved ones, who were prisoners of war, perished in the sinking of a Japanese ship during WWII. A memorial commemorating their loss was dedicated at Riverton's Veterans Park. Photo by Ed McAuslan

Riverton, Wyo. – A monument to nine Wyoming men who were lost in the October 24, 1944, sinking of the Japanese freighter Arisan Maru was dedicated in Riverton’s Veteran’s Park last week.

The Wyoming men were prisoners of war, crammed into the ship which was heading to Tako, Formosa. They were among 1,783 American POWs on board. The Arisan Maru was in the Luzon Strait and was in a convoy of other Japanese ships when American submarines attacked the convoy, not knowing that the Arisan Maru held American Prisoners.

There was a large local turnout for the dedication ceremony. Photo by Ed McAuslan

To honor the memory of the men lost in that sinking, and especially the memory of the nine Wyomingites, a granite memorial was erected and dedicated.

Five families of the men were invited and four attended, including the family of Willie Schilling of Riverton. Also remembered at the event was the uncle of Dr. Kent SStockton, who lost his life in the South Pacific, but who was not on the ill-fated ship.

During the solemn ceremony, United States Flags were presented to the families. The event drew a large local turnout.

The story of the sinking of the Arisan Maru was chronicled in Prologue Magazine and is found on the National Archives website. The item on the Arisan Maru is copied below:

The Arisan Maru: A Navy Boatswain Survives

On the eve of and during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23–27, 1944), intercepts and intelligence summaries focused upon the movements of “#1 Diversion Attack Force,” “#1 and #2 Replenishment Force,” and other sea, air, and land units. Occasional references to patrol boats, merchant ships, and convoys are found. On October 24, 1944, the following message was decrypted: “The Luzon Straits Force is assigned to 2 unidentified Convoys and the Naval Air Force is assigned to 2 other unidentified Convoys.”

One of these convoys may have been the Harukaze Convoy, which departed Manila for Takao, Formosa, on October 21, 1944. In that convoy was the Arisan Maru.

 Its cargo: 1,783 American prisoners of war.

The Arisan Maru. Photo by Philippine Defenders WWII

Boatswain Martin Binder was among the prisoners compressed into hold two of the Arisan Maru on October 11. There was standing room only. On the following day, the Japanese mercifully moved about 800 prisoners to hold one, which was partially filled with coal. Mercy did not, however, extend to providing water, and several died of heat exhaustion.

To the surprise of the POWs, the ship took a southerly route, away from their Formosa destination, narrowly missing a devastating Allied air attack on Manila airfields and harbor. The Arisan Maru returned to Manila a few days later when it was thought safe to do so, joined the convoy, and departed on October 20.

It was nearly dinnertime on October 24. About twenty prisoners were on deck preparing the meal. The ship was near Shoonan, off the eastern coast of China. Binder and the others suddenly “felt the jar caused by hits of two torpedoes.” Arisan Maru stopped dead in the water. After severing the rope ladder leading down into the first hold, the Japanese abandoned ship. Binder was first to escape from hold two and assisted in lowering a ladder down to those in hold one. Ropes were thrown down to those in hold two, as well. Wearing life belts and clinging to rafts, hatch boards, and any other flotsam and jetsam, the prisoners struggled in the rough waters of the Pacific.

Japanese destroyers deliberately pulled away from the men struggling to reach them. Binder survived by clinging to a raft and was later rescued by a Japanese transport that took him to Japan. On October 25 a Japanese army shipping message was intercepted stating “that the Arisan Maru had been loaded with 1,783 men (presumably prisoners).”