Pvt. Olen Jay Gilson
Pvt. Olen J. Gilson was born on January 22, 1919,
in East Liverpool, Ohio to Oscar Gilson &
Delila Brown-Gilson. With his three brothers
and four sisters, he grew up at 1731 Globe Street
in East Liverpool. He graduated from
Pleasent Heights School and completed three years
of high school before going to work as a clerk at
a grocery store.
On March 22, 1941, Olen was inducted into the U.S. Army at Cleveland, Ohio, and sent to Fort Knox for basic training. During his training he was sent to radio school and qualified as a radio operator. In April, 1941, he received leave home and spent Easter with his parents.
After basic training, Olen was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been sent to the camp from Fort Benning, Georgia. Maneuvers were going on at the base, but the battalion did not take part in them.
The 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, from Ft. Knox to take part in maneuvers. After the maneuver the battalion was not sent back to Ft. Knox but held behind at Camp Polk. The members of the battalion had no idea why this was happening. It was on the side of a hill, the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. According to members of the battalion, General George Patton selected them for this duty. Men too old to go overseas were released from federal service, and replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. Olen volunteered, with his friend, Eugene Greenfield, to join the battalion and became a member HQ Company.
Many of the members of the battalion were given leaves home so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to San Francisco, California. From San Francisco, the tankers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. Others 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, for Hawaii, as part of a three ship convoy which arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam and arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th. It was during this part of the trip that the smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The heavy cruiser, which was escorting the two transports, revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. As it turned out, the unknown ship belonged to a neutral country.
At Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. They sailed the next day for Manila. At one point during this part of the trip, at night, the ships passed islands in absolute blackout. The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, where they docked at Pier 7. After three hours, the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg, while others drove their trucks to the base. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind at the pier to unload the battalion's 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. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons, since the guns had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance and ready for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
The two tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field the morning of Monday, December 1st. The 194th was assigned to protect the northern portion of the airfield, and the 192nd was assigned the southern portion of the airfield. At all times, two crew members remained with their tanks or half-tracks. The morning of December 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All members of the letter companies were sent to the airfield.
All morning long, on December 8th, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying most of the American Army Air Corps. HQ Company was in the battalion's bivouac when the attack took place and took cover since they had no weapons to use against the planes. After the attack, they witnessed the devastation caused by the bombing and strafing.
The battalion remained at the airfield and lived through several more attacks until December 21st when it was ordered to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops. For the next four months Olen worked to supply the letter companies with the supplies they needed to fight the Japanese.
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. He somehow came up with enough bread and pineapple juice for the company, and they had what Bruni called, "Their last supper."
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M. The members of the company remained in their bivouac. The first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment on April 11th, and Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road and place their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
After this, the company boarded their trucks and drove to outside Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit. As they sat and waited, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. As he left, the Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to an open field in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours without food or water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American artillery began landing among the POWs, who could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
How long the POWs remained in the bull pen is not known but they sat there most of the day. The Japanese ordered the POWs to form columns of 100 men and marched them to the train depot at San Fernando. There, they were put into a small wooden boxcar used to haul sugarcane and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training
base that the Japanese pressed into service as a
Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be
a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying
each day. There was only one working water
faucet for the entire camp. To get a
drink, men stood in line for hours, which
resulted in many men dying while waiting for a
drink. The death rate was so high that the
POWs volunteered to go out on work details to
escape the camp. The Japanese recognized
that they had to do something to lower the death
rate, so they opened a new camp at
In late 1942, Olen
went out on a work detail to Clark Field to
build revetments and a runway. He
remained on the detail until he became
ill. Medical records at Bilibid Prison,
show that he was admitted to the hospital ward
on December 23, 1942, with diphtheria and
discharged on April 2, 1943, to Cabanatuan.
1944, Olen's name appeared on a POW roster of
men who were being transferred to Japan.
The POWs were loaded onto trucks and taken to
the Port Area of Manila. All the POWs in the
detachment, that Olen was in, had
arrived at the docks only to find the
ship they were scheduled to sail on, the
Arisan Maru, was not ready to
sail. Another ship, the Hokusen
Maru was ready to sail, but its
POWs detachment had not completely
arrived. So that the ship could
sail, the Japanese switched the
detachments and Olen's detachment
boarded the Hokusen Maru on
The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the
harbor's breakwater. It remained there
for three days and the temperatures in the
hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some
men to go crazy. The Japanese
threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't
quiet the men. To do this, the sane
POWs strangled those who were out of their
minds or hit them with canteens.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa, so the ships sailed for Hong Kong. While on their way to Formosa, the ships received word that American planes were in the area. During this part of the voyage, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th and remained for ten days. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
one of 294 POWs taken to a school house that was
near the town of Toroku on Formosa. Since
most of the POWs were weak from the length of
the trip that it took to reach Formosa, they
were not required to do hard physical
labor. The POWs did light gardening and
work around the camp, while the healthier POWs
worked at a sugar mill.
Olen Gilson passed away on October
29, 1995, in Phelan, California. He
was buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in
Return to HQ Company