S/Sgt. Olen C. Elwell
S/Sgt Olen C. Elwell was the son of Mary Zoschke-Elwell & Harley Elwell. He was born on June 11, 1914, and with his three brothers and his sister, he was raised on a farm near LaCarne, Ohio. He attended LaCarne Elementary School and Port Clinton High School. He graduated from high school in 1934.
It is known that Olen was a member of the Ohio National Guard's tank company at Port Clinton in 1936and took part in maneuvers at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was still a member of the National Guard when the company was called to Federal duty in the fall of 1940.
at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for nearly a year as a
member of the 192nd Tank Battalion. In the
late summer of 1941, he and the other members of
the 192nd took part in maneuvers in
Louisiana. After the maneuvers, he learned
the battalion was not being released from Federal
service, instead they were being sent overseas.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled
west over four different train
routes. Arriving in San
Francisco, the soldiers were ferried
to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.
On the island, the soldiers were given
physicals and inoculated for tropical
diseases. Those with health issues
were released from service and
C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that C Company's tanks won the first tank battle victory of World War II against enemy tanks. After the battle, C Company made its way south. When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.
On December 31, 1941, the commanding officer of C Company sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, the company set up it's defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.
Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge. Lt. Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.
When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.
Kennady held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
Gentry and the other tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.
The tanks were spaced about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.
Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire. They then used their .37 mm guns. The fighting was such a rout that the the tankers were using a .37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.
The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked. Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns.
After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across. The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.
In addition to serving as a rear guard, the
tankers burnt everything that was being left
behind. They burnt warehouses, banks, and
businesses that would help the Japanese.
The company took part in
the Battle of the
Japanese had lunched an
offensive and were pushed
back to the original
battle line. Two
pockets of Japanese
soldiers were trapped
behind the line. The
tanks were sent in to the
pockets to wipe them
out. One platoon of
tanks would relieve
another platoon. The
tanks would do this one at
Olen fought the Japanese for four months. On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march and was held as a Prisoner of War at Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was a deathtrap with as many as POWs dying each day. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. To get out of camp, Olen went out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges the Americans had destroyed during the withdrawal into Bataan.
It is known he rebuilt a bridge at Calumpit. While working on the bridge, the POWs were housed in a schoolhouse. Their diet consisted of rice and fish. Sickness among the POWs was commonplace and many suffered from dysentery, beriberi, and malaria. At one point only twenty of the 150 POWs were healthy enough to work.
On July 1st, the POWs were sent to rebuild a
bridge near the barrio of Cabanatuan. They
remained there until the bridge was finished and then
were sent to Cabanatuan POW camp. This camp had
been opened to lower the death rate among the POWs. It is known that he was
hospitalized Monday, April 12, 1943. No
reason for his admittance or date of discharge was
given. It was also at this time that his
family learned he was a POW on April 2, 1943.
In early October 1944, the Japanese, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the American forces would invade the Philippines, began sending large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries. On October 11, 1944, Olen was taken to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. The POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru and packed into the ship's hold. The next day 80 POWs were moved to the ship's other hold which was partially filled with coal.
On October 10, 1944, John was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. On October 11th, the ship sailed but took a southerly route away from Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. During this time, one POW died.
The stay in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes on ships in the Manila Bay. It is known that the ship was attacked once by American planes while in the cove. The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th. There, it joined a convoy.
On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. This made the ships targets for submarines.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, at 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those POWs in the ship's two holds. The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel. Suddenly, there was a sudden jar which was caused by the ship being hit by two torpedoes. The ship stopped dead in the water. Two torpedoes had hit the ship in its third hold where there were no POWs. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U. S. S Snook.
One of the Japanese guards took a machinegun and began firing at the POWs who were on deck. To escape the fire, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two occupied holds. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders into the holds. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.
All of the POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 35 men swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and clubs. Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.
As the ship got lower in the water, more POWs took to the water. Those POWs too weak to swim raided the ship's food lockers. They wanted to die with full stomachs. Many POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Nine POWs found a abandoned lifeboat floating in the ocean. These men stated that most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking.
The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark. According to the surviving POWs, as evening became night, the cries for help became fewer and fewer until there was silence.
S/Sgt. Olen C. Elwell died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru on October 24, 1944. Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.