Private Epimenio G. Rubi – 1919-1944

Prisoner of War and Missing in Action World War II

Epimenio G. Rubi was the son of Cleotilde Gallegos of Sebolleta, New Mexico and Pedro Rubi of St. John’s, Arizona. The Rubi’s who settled in St. Johns, Winslow and Holbrook, Arizona were descendants of the families that migrated from Cubero, Sebolleta and surrounding villages in New Mexico Territory to an area east of the Little Colorado River in the newly formed Arizona Territory. As more families arrived, the village was named San Juan or St. Johns as it is known today.

Epimenio was born in 1919 in Winslow, Arizona and completed four years of high school. On the 26th of July 1940, he accepted the terms of enlistment in the United States Army and Panama Canal Department. At the age of 21, he was recorded as a single man with no dependents. Being fluent in both English and Spanish, the government took full advantage of his Spanish speaking abilities and assigned him to duty in the Philippines; Southwest Pacific Theatre of War.

Prisoner of War

In 1942, Epimenio Rubi was captured and held as a Prisoner of War of the Japanese military and was sent to Davao Penal Colony #502 in Mindanao, Philippines. He was one of the estimated 75,000 American and Filipino men and women who were forced to walk in the Bataan Death March. Although it was initially reported that Epimenio was one of the first casualties, it was later learned that he had actually survived. As was common for the times, Epimenio’s family was furnished little information of his status and it was learned much later, that he had survived the tortuous and inhumane event.

Sadly, his mother Cleotilde Gallegos Rubi, passed away in June of 1943 without ever knowing what happened to her son. In fact, the Rubi family could not account for what happened to Epimenio until years later. This is documented in a letter dated 8 November 1944, written by an uncle, Dan Garduno who was in the Army and stationed in Iran during the War. Dan wrote to his sister Margaret who was Epimenio’s aunt, “Epimenio is probably going through hell if he still alive. That is one reason we are all so anxious to chase the Sons of heaven back into their holes and then pour hot lead into the hole. New Mexico has a lot of its native boys in Japanese hands. They were all taken when the 200th Coast Artillery had to give up. A lot of good fellows I know in Gallup were in it.” The horrible destruction and casualties of War led to strong anti Japanese sentiment and is reflected in the tone of this letter. Epimenio was held captive as a Prisoner of Warfor two years before he was declared MIA, Lost at Sea.

Missing in Action

As American forces rallied and advanced to retake the Philippine Islands, the Japanese began moving POW’s onto naval ships to transport them from Mindanao to prisons in Manila. One of the several ‘Hell Ships’ as they were referred to by the survivors was called the Shinyo Maru. It was learned that POW Epimenio Rubi of the 7th Material Squadron, 5th Air Base Group, was one of the 750 persons that were loaded onto the Shinyo Maru to be transported to Manila. Tragically, it was unknown by the U.S. military that the Japanese ship was transporting the POW’s and on 7 September 1944, the U.S.S. Paddle, sank the Shinyo Maru by firing several torpedoes.

In 2003, the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) published an article in Prologue Magazine written by author Lee A Gladwin, titled “American POW’s on Japanese Ships Take a Voyage Into Hell” (Winter 2003, Vol. 35, No.4) revealing the fate of the POW’s on several ships including the Shinyo Maru.

The death of Shinyo Maru was duly noted by a Japanese cipher clerk at 1650 hours on September 7, the victim of a “torpedo attack.” An intercept of September 10 reported 150 Japanese army casualties. Lt. Commander Nowell later reported that “this is probably the attack in which U.S. POWs were sunk, and swam ashore.”

_______________________

Published With Permission by Daria Landress, November 2016