Sgt. Ralph Arnold Ellis
| Sgt. Ralph Arnold Ellis was born
January 14, 1916, to George M. Ellis and
Isabella Hayes-Ellis. With his two sisters,
he lived at 1408 South Sixth Avenue Maywood,
Illinois. Ralph attended Garfield Elementary
School and Proviso Township High School, where he
was in the choir. His hobbies were
collecting stamps and classical records. He
was also a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
Ralph joined the Illinois National Guard in September 1940, because he knew that it was just a matter of time before he would be drafted. He was called to active duty in November 1940 with the other members of the 33rd Tank Company and left by train for Ft. Knox on November 28th. He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was formed in January 1941.
At Camp Polk, Louisiana, Ralph took part in the maneuvers of 1941 by keeping the tanks of the battalion running. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as had been expected. It was on the side of a hill that the 192nd was informed that they were being sent overseas. Ralph received a leave to go home and say goodbye to family and friends. It was at this time that he became engaged to, Virginia Vertuno, the sister of Russell Vertuno of B Company.
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco, California. Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, that the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy that arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd. Since the convoy had a two day layover, the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Wednesday, November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
Arriving at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water before sailing for Manila. The soldiers remained on board since the convoy was sailing the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While passing the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that war was coming. The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th. They docked at Pier 7 later that day, but the soldiers did not disembark until 3:00 P.M. They boarded buses and were taken to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those assigned to trucks drove to the base, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field, but he had only learned of their arrival a few days earlier. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
At six in the morning on December 8th, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength at the perimeter of airfield. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers were having lunch and watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. On December 28th, he sent home a telegram that read, "Everyone fine. Season Greetings. Tell Folks." Sgt. Ralph Ellis, 192nd. From this time on until April 9th, he and other members of HQ Company, worked to keep the battalion tanks running.
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders. At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.
It is not known if Ralph became a Prisoner of War on April 9, 1942, or if he escaped to Corregidor. What is known is that Ralph was held as a Prisoner of War at Cabanatuan. He was later sent to Manila and was held at Bachrach Garage. The POWs on this detail repaired mechanical equipment. On this detail were Roger Heilig, Arthur Van Pelt, Warren Hidebrandt and Daniel Boni of B Company. He apparently became ill and was returned to Cabanatuan.
At some point, Ralph was sent to Clark Field to build runways and revetments. He was a replacement worker for another POW who had been sent to Bilibid Prison due to illness. He remained there until August 17, 1944, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison for health reasons and remained there for several months.
Early on October 3, 1944, Ralph and the other POWs were sent to the Port Area of Manila for processing and shipment to Japan. Ralph's group of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, which was ready to sail, but the entire detachment had not arrived. Since another group of POWs was ready to sail but their ship was not ready, the Japanese switched detachments so the ship could sail.
Ralph's POW detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11th. 1803 POWs were packed into a hold that could hold 400 men. The conditions in the hold was so bad that five POWs died within the first 48 hours.
Some of the POWs found that although the Japanese had removed the light bulbs in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lighting system. The POWs were able to hot wire the hold's ventilators into the lighting system, and they had fresh air for two days. When the Japanese realized what they POWs had done, they turned off the power to the lights.
After this, the prisoners began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese soon realized that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship. To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's first hold which was partially filled with coal. During the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape. During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces of water and two rations of rice.
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th, where, it joined a convoy. On October 21st, after loading bananas and other foods, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese also issued life jackets to the POWs which could float for about two hours. According to survivors, all this did was reinforced in the Americans the fear of being killed by their own countrymen.
The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. In addition, U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines.
The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines. At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner. About half the POWs on the ship had been fed. When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship. The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship.
The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the #2 hold. Once they were in the hold they cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover.
Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark amidship killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly. A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death. The Japanese abandoned ship leaving the POWs to die.
POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds. The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck. On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the script." Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."
According to surviving POWs, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but remain afloat. It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship. When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs. Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal. These men wanted to die with full stomachs.
As the ship got lower in the water, some of the POWs attempted to survive by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, clinging to rafts, and clinging to other flotsam and jetsam. The majority of the POWs still were on the ship. The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.
Three POWs found a lifeboat that the Japanese had abandoned, but since they had no oars and the waves were rough, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. The surviving POWs stated that the cries for help slowly faded away. Most of the POWs, if not all, were dead. The next morning, they rescued two other men.
In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking. Only eight of these men survived the war.
Sgt. Ralph A. Ellis died on October 24, 1944, in the sinking of the Arisan Maru. He was 28 years old. Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.