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Thomas Joseph Abruzzino

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


Thomas Joseph Abruzzino

It is my earnest hope - indeed the hope of all mankind - that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world found upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice. Douglas MacArthur
Thomas Joseph Abruzzino, known to his family as "Tommy," was born April 22, 1923 in Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia. Tommy was the youngest son of Anthony and Kathryn Abruzzino, who lived in the Glen Elk area of Clarksburg, and he joined a family of siblings that consisted of brothers Johnny, Sammy, Anthony, Pat, Joe, and Frank, and a sister Rose Marie.
Tommy attended Washington Irving High School where he was a gifted student and athlete. He was also an excellent self-taught artist. He was known to always keep a steno pad with him, and his talent was easily seen in a sketch he made of a Philippine woman while he was in the service.
by Tommy
Sketch by
Thomas Abruzzino
Tom Abruzzino in
Thomas Abruzzino
in Hawaii
After graduation, Tommy was anxious to learn a trade, serve his country, and see far away places like Hawaii. For these reasons, he enlisted in the United States Navy on December 5, 1938. Tommy never failed to write home and to ask about all the members of the family. He also liked to send gifts, such as a tailor made Navy suit for Anthony and hand-made pillowcases and bedspread for Rose Marie.
Tommy eventually made his way to the Philippines, where he served as an Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class. He reported that his squadron was always advancing from Cavite to Sebu to Illoilo, earning them the names the "Suicide Squadron" and the "Pioneers."
Thomas Abruzzino in
Thomas Abruzzino
in Hawaii
Tommy had many good times in the Philippines, making many friends and even playing point guard on his naval squadron's basketball team. This earned Tommy the opportunity to fly to Manila twice a week in order to play against some college students. Tommy even won a watch in a tournament that he graciously sent home for his brothers to wear. Tommy's team was so good that they even won the Asiatic Fleet Championship.
Abruzzino in
Thomas Abruzzino
in Mexico
Tommy was always aware of the Navy's procedures for promotion. In one of his letters home he said, "Just a couple of days ago I took another examination for advancement. I won't be eligible until May, but if I connect I will be first class (AM 1/C) which will be almost the tops. To be chief is my aim. The way it is now if war breaks out I will automatically become AM 1/C and if I am already 1/C I will then be chief of the highest of all rates of an enlisted personnel." Tommy did achieve his goals and he was promoted to Aviation Metalshmith 1st Class.
After his letter of November 12, 1941, Tommy's correspondence suddenly stopped. On March 9, 1942 the Abruzzino family received a telegram informing them that Tommy was missing pending further information. The family eventually learned that Tommy survived the Bataan Death March and spent three years as a Japanese prisoner of war in Bilibid Prison Camp where he and the other prisoners were starved, mistreated, and denied adequate medical care.
Thomas Abruzzino in
San Diego
Thomas Abruzzino
in San Diego
During the course of these three years the family would receive signed, typewritten postcards stating bare information such as internment location and health condition. These cards, although lacking in their information, were welcome to Tommy's family as they indicated that he was still alive. This enabled the Abruzzino family, and their friends, to hope that Tommy would indeed return someday.
Japanese ship Arisan Maru
Japanese ship
Arisan Maru
In 1944, the Japanese realized that the Philippines would soon be recaptured by American troops. To save their POWs from being liberated, they decided to move them to Japan for use as slave laborers. Tommy was boarded onto a Japanese ship called the Arisan Maru with 1,799 other prisoners for transport. When this ship left port in October, 1944 it carried no markings whatsoever, so it was easily and legally a target for Allied submarines to torpedo. Thus, in the Bashi Channel in the South China Sea, a US submarine mistook the Arisan Maru as an enemy warship and had no idea it carried US prisoners of war. The submarine torpedoed this ship and all but five of the POWs lost their lives. Some of the prisoners tried to board a Japanese rescue ship, but they were easily beaten off because the Japanese treatment left them too weak to put up any struggle. Tommy was one of the many brave men who lost their lives that day; his body was buried at sea.
After the war, military tribunals in the Far East were convened to try Japanese officials for the war time atrocities that they had committed. These tribunals heard testimony and took depositions from survivors and others associated with the "hellships" and the prisoner of war camps. One of those survivors was Edward Lochbihler, Chief Petty Officer, USN, Serial # 181-68-43. He said the following in his deposition:
One of the track bosses, a Japanese civilian called 'Pistol Pete' used an iron bar about 1/2 inch in diameter and about 2 feet long to beat prisoners. I watched him break the ribs of one prisoner while beating him with this bar. The prisoner's name was Abrazzino [sic], an Aviation Metalsmith Second Class.*

It is easy to see that Thomas Abruzzino was forced to endure atrocities most people can barely imagine. But his sacrifice was not in vain, for he helped to champion the cause of democracy and protect the freedom of the world. Tommy was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart on behalf of the citizens of a grateful nation. In recognition of his honorable service in World War II, and for his ultimate sacrifice, Thomas Joseph Abruzzino's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, and Thomas's was one of the original names inscribed on the West Virginia Veteran's Memorial. Thomas is also honored on the World War II memorial online registry by his niece, Rosalie Price.

*"Pistol Pete" was really Sergeant Major Mutsuo Okubo, who was charged with five specifications of physically abusing American POWs. The United States Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, War Crimes Branch, tried Okubo and he was found guilty on four of the five charges. Okubo was sentenced to two years of hard labor. The Lochbihler affidavit that mentions Thomas Abruzzino was used as part of this trial record. A copy of the information provided by the National Archives and Records Administration, as well as Chief Petty Officer Lochbihler's affidavit, can be found in the records of the West Virginia Veterans Memorial Archives in the file of Thomas Joseph Abruzzino.

Original Article Written by Rosalie Price; Edited by Chad N. Proudfoot


West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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