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.  He worked 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 told them the news.  Men too old to go overseas were released from federal service.  Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.   Olen volunteered, with his friend, Eugene Greenfield, to join the battalion.  He became a member HQ Company after joining the 192nd.
    Many of the members of the battalion were given leave 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.
    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.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  They sailed the same day for Manila.  The ships 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.
    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 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The letter companies were ordered to the south end of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac. 
    All morning the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying the American Army Air Corps.  The members of HQ 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.
    For the next four months Jack worked to keep the tanks supplied and running. 
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M.  The members of the company remained in their bivouac.  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.  Jack was now a Prisoner of War.

    On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment.  A 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.  They were told to put 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.

    The company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  As they sat, 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 Japanese 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.  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.  The Japanese did not feed them or give them water.  Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  These two islands had not surrendered.  Shells from these two American artillery began landing among the POWs.  The POWs 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.  The POWs 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.  The Japanese ordered the POWs to form columns and took them to the train depot at San Fernando. 
They were put into a small wooden boxcar 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 car.  From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell. 
     Camp 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.  Many died while waiting for a drink.  The death rate among the POWs was high enough to get POWs to volunteer 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 Cabanatuan.
    It is known that Olen was sent to Cabanatuan in May 1942.  The death rate at the camp dropped dramatically after it was opened when the Japanese issued the POWs Red Cross packages.  Medical records at the camp show that Olen was admitted to the camp hospital on August 7, 1942.  What he was admitted for was not recorded, neither was the date he was discharged from the hospital. 
    Owen appears to have gone out on a work detail sometime after he was released from the hospital.  Medical records at Bilibid Prison, show that he had been admitted there with diphtheria and discharged on April 2, 1943, to Cabanatuan.
    On August 15, 1943, Owen was sent out on a work detail to Las Pinas to build runways at an airfield.  The POWs, on this detail, built the runways and revetments with picks and shovels.  He remained on the detail for approximately a year.  It was at this time his sister received a POW postcard stating he was fine and receiving medical treatment.  On September 21, 1944, the airfield was bombed by American planes.  The next day the detail was ended and the POWs were sent to Manila.
    Upon arrival in Manila, the POWs were taken to Pier 7.  The ship they were scheduled to sail on was the Arisan Maru.  The entire POW detachment had arrived, but the ship was not ready to sail.  Another ship, the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail, but the entire detachment of POWs that was scheduled to sail on it had not arrived.  The Japanese decided to swap detachments and board Olen's POW detachment on the ship.
    The ship sailed on October 3rd, and took eight days to reach Hong Kong.  The reason for this was it took a zigzag route to avoid American submarines.  During its time in Hong Kong, on October 13th, the ship was attacked by American planes.  The ship sailed again on October 21st and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 24th.  The POWs remained in the ship's holds until November 11th when they were disembarked.
    Olen was one of 294 POWs taken to a school house that was near the town of Toroku.  Since most of the POWs were weak from the length of the trip they took to reach Formosa, they were not required to do hard physical labor.  The POWs did light gardening and work around the camp.  The healthier POWs worked at a sugar mill.
    In January 1945, most of the POWs were taken to a port and boarded onto the Enoshima Maru.  The ship sailed on January 25th and arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 30th.  After arriving, Olen was taken to
Tokyo #23.  The POWs in the camp worked as stevedores and ship construction.  He remained in the camp until he was liberated.

    After liberation, Olen was returned to the Philippines before being sent home.  He sailed from Manila on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman, at San Francisco, on October 3, 1945.  He arrived home on October 20, 1945, and was hospitalized at Fletcher General Hospital at Cambridge, Ohio.  He was discharged from the Army on April 11, 1946.  He married and became the father of two sons, and later moved to California where they resided in Lake View, West Covina, and later Oak Hills. 

    Olen Gilson passed away on October 29, 1995, in Phelan, California.  He was buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

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