Bill Lang was an aviator in WWII. Bill was the son of prominent Dallas architect William J. Lang, Sr. and the grandson of Otto H. Lang, both of whom were well known in the area. The Lang name had long been associated with the architectural firm Lang and Witchell, a company that designed many of the buildings that still stand in Dallas.
Bill was a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas. He had enlisted in his home town of Dallas, Texas on October 14, 1940 in the Army Air Corps shortly after graduating from the University of Texas. When he enlisted, he was just under six feet tall and weighed 165 pounds.
While serving in the Philippines, Bill was captured by the Japanese, participated in the Bataan Death March, and was interned in a Japanese prison camp in Mindanao, Philippines. In October, 1944, the Japanese were attempting to evacuate Mindanao prisoners of war by shipping them to another location on an unmarked Japanese transport, the Arisan Maru, when it was sunk by one of two US submarines, either the USS Shark or the USS Snook. Out of 1,783 prisoners, less than a dozen survived. Bill was killed in this incident, officially lost at sea.
The Arisan Maru was a 6,686-ton cargo ship and when used for this purpose, such ships as these were referred to as “Hell Ships.” This particular incident occurred during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines from October 23, 1944 to October 27, 1944.
Studies of the event reveal that once underway, the Arisan Maru first took a southern route, rather than directly heading to Formosa (current day Taiwan). Shortly after the convoy left the harbor, Manilla was heavily attacked by Allied air elements. This occurred immediately prior to the opening days of the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23 to October 26, 1944), a decisive action designed to strike the Japanese at the heart of the Philippines and reclaim the area for the Allies. Once the initial attack on on the bay was over, the unmarked cargo ship returned to Manila briefly before departing a second time on October 20, 1944.
The Arisan Maru was part of a larger convoy that left Manila that day bound for Takao, Formosa. On board were 1,783 prisoners of war. Conditions were harsh as the prisoners were forced to stand in the holds and were deprived of water. Already in poor condition from their prison camp captivity, some would die during the voyage.
Late on the afternoon of October 24, 1944, the ship was in the South China Sea, due east of Hianan, China. About two dozen prisoners were were on the deck preparing a meager dinner when at about 5:00 PM, they felt the ship be jarred from the effect of two torpedo hits, and she glided to a stop. Survivors witnessed their Japanese captors cutting the rope ladder to the first hold where the prisoners were held. Some still managed to escape and throw ropes to the other prisoners on the second hold, but most were trapped below decks when the Arisan Maru went down about two hours later. A reasonable estimate puts her location at roughly 300-400 miles south of Shantou, China in the South China Sea. The few survivors were clinging to whatever floating debris they could reach.
Survivors reported that nearby Japanese destroyers did not try to rescue them but instead had pulled away. Nine of the prisoners survived, five having reached the shore of China in one of the ship’s two lifeboats. These men were returned to the United States. Four more were later picked up by other Japanese ships and one of them died shortly after he returned to land.
The remains of the individuals aboard the Arisan Maru when she went down were never recovered. Lt. Lang is named among the Tablets of the Missing located at the Manila American Cemetery on McKinley Road, Fort Bonifacio in Manila, Philippines. The cemetery was dedicated in 1960 and includes 17,201 burials and another 36,285 names of those missing in action.
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