Ringgold County

John Francis Athey

Athey, Missing Since May,
Is a Prisoner of War

Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Athey, of Middle Fork township, were informed this week through official channels that their son, Pay Clerk John Francis Athey, is a prisoner of war, held by the Japanese in the Philippine Islands.

The long awaited news of their son's safety came Monday morning in the form of an air mail letter from their daughter-in-law [Thelma], of Long Beach, Calif., who had received an official letter from the navy department saying that, according to official Japanese sources in Geneva, Switzerland, "Pay Clerk John Francis Athey  is a prisoner of war in the Philippine Islands."

Athey, who had spent 12 years in the navy, two years of which time was spent in the Manila Bay area where he was stationed at the out-break of hostilities, was the first service man reported missing from Ringgold county. Official announcement that "he will be carried on the records of the navy department as missing, pending further investigation" was received by the wife and parents May 10, 1942.

Athey, who is 32 years of age, graduated from the Redding high school in 1928. He enlisted in the navy in 1930 and advanced to the rating of warrant officer with the title of Pay Clerk at the time he was taken prisoner.

Source: Mount Ayr Record News, Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa, March of 1943
Submission by Theola Weeda collection

Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Athey Receive Official Notice
Of Death of Their Son

Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Athey have recently received official notice from the Navy Department of the death of their son, Pay Clerk John Francis Athey.

Francis enlisted in the navy in 1930, and was reported missing in action in the Philippines area in May, 1942, and later receiving word that he was a prisoner of war in the Philippines.

The manner of his death, according to the navy department report, occurred when the Japanese undertook to transfer some prisoners of war from the Philippine Islands to Japan in October, 1944, in a ship with no marks to indicate it carried prisoners of war, and traveling in convoy, was torpedoed and sunk by American forces. Records kept by the Japanese have recently come into the hand of the navy indicating that Francis was among those on that ship and did not survive the sinking.

The Navy Department concludes the report as follows -
"The Navy Department shares in your loss and extends sincere sympathy to you in your sorrow. It is hoped that you may find comfort in the knowledge that your son gave his life for his country, upholding the highest traditions of the navy."

Source: Mount Ayr Record News, Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa, date clipped off; photograph from Redding Centennial Book—photo included

NOTE: John Francis Athey survived the Bataan Death March. He was held captive at Old Bilibid Prison in Manila. He was among 1,781 American and Allied military and civilians POWS aboard the Japanese freighter Arisan Maru, one of Japan's World War II hell ships. When the transport was in the Bashi Straits, South China Sea, she was torpedoed by the American submarine USS Shark (SS-314) on October 24, 1944 at approximately 5 p.m.

Before abandoning ship, the Japanese cut the rope ladders going down to the holds where the POWs were. They closed the latches on the holds and then boarded life boats, leaving the POWs trapped.

The Arisan Maru sank two hours later with only 9 of the POWs miraculously surviving. During the same action, USS Shark was lost, believed to have been torpedoed by Arisan Maru.

Source: us-japandialogueonpows.org/Bowen.htm; west-point.org/family/japanese-pow/ArisanFiles-2/A.htm

NOTE: John Francis ATHEY is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines.