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. In
high school, 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 of 1940 with the other members of the 33rd Tank Company. 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 maneuvers. At Camp Polk, after the maneuvers, the 192nd was informed that they were being sent overseas. Most of the men had expected to be released from federal duty. 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. Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they 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.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island. On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.
At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th. They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King. The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 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.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the officers of the tank battalion were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were ordered move their tanks to the perimeter of Clark Field. At 12:45 in the afternoon the Japanese bombed the airfield destroying most of the Army Air Corps. After the attack, they remained at the airfield for two weeks.
On December 28th, he sent home a telegram that read, "Everyone fine. Season Greetings. Tell Folks." Sgt. Ralph Ellis, 192nd. He and the other members of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, fought the Japanese for four months before being surrendered on April 9, 1942. It is not known if he surrendered on that date or escaped to the Island of 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.
At some point, Ralph was sent to Clark Field to build runways. He remained there until October when he was sent to Bilibid Prison. Early on October 3, 1944, Ralph and the other POWs were sent to the Port Area in Manila for processing for shipment to Japan.
Ralph's group of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since another group of POWs had not completely arrived and their ship was ready to sail, the other POW group was put on the ship. 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.
The ship sailed, but instead of heading for Formosa, it went to a cove off Palawan Island. There, it dropped anchor and remained for nine days. During this time the Japanese realized that they had to do something about the conditions in the hold. They opened the first hold and moved 800 POWs to it.
On October 20th, the Arisan Maru returned to Manila. It joined a convoy of eleven other ships that sailed on October 21st. On October 24th around 5:00 pm, the ship was in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. The Japanese, on deck, ran to the stem of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. They next ran to the ship's stern and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship. Moments later, two torpedoes were spotted coming at the ship. The torpedoes hit the ship amidships. The ship shook and stopped dead in the water. The ship was attacked in the South China Sea by either the U.S.S. Snook or the U.S.S Shark II.
Several POWs had been on deck cooking dinner. The Japanese began shooting at them to get them back in the ship's holds. Once the POWs were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders, replaced the hatch covers, and abandoned ship. They did not tie the hatch covers down. Several POWs were able to climb out of the holds and reattached the rope ladders.
Those POWs who were able to swim attempted to escape the ship by swimming to ships that were picking up Japanese survivors. To prevent the POWs from getting on the ships, the Japanese pushed them away with blows and clubbed the POWs who attempted to climb onto the ships.
According to the survivors, the ship slowly sunk lower in the water. Those men who could not swim, raided the ship's food lockers and ate their last meals. Others attempted to find themselves anything that would float.
Sometime after dark, the Arisan Maru broke in two and sunk. Cries for help were heard for hours until there was silence. Sgt. Ralph A. Ellis died on October 24, 1944. 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.