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.
Olen trained 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.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 -
was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying
over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed
something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the
distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the
direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio
transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day,
when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its
deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was
difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military
presence in the Philippines.
Over four different train routed the battalion was sent to San Francisco, California, and
ferried to Angel Island on the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them,
"I'd rather be here then going where you all are going." Elmer and the other men stayed on
Angel Island for two days for physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment.
The 192nd boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many
tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine
guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and
had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from
the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the
U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke
the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the
International Dateline. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.
The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the
smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas,
coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at
night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into
harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7
later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who
drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward P. King. King welcomed them and
made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers
and that they had to love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from
their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them,
with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes
landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The
tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were
Japanese. After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were than
sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could
disengage and form a defensive line. They repeated this maneuver over and over again.
At Kabu, C Company's tanks were hidden in brush. The Japanese troops passed the tanks for three
hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio
describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush,
that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened
up on the Japanese. They then fell back to Cabanatuan.
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
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
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
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.
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga
River. The battalion's tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the
defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to
withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders, since they came from Gen.
MacArthur's chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces
defending the bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders
withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied
attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the
road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which
was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula
with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge,
and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter
The night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops
around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter
Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and
members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After
daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald
Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese
tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks
were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the
When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the
area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did
not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the
East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance
work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three
tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the
tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen.
: "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until
further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close
approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight
with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere
with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the
Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts,
fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks
which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and
inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the
Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until
the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac
Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were
suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around
the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches.
The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast, while the
battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks
guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on
Bataan. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in
the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A.
Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from
the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the
Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the
area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of
the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a
Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out
that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision
was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front
line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gun fire. As they moved forward,
members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side
of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they
would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating
the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made by to bring in a radio car so that the tanks
and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were
assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each
tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that
the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they
were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the
cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were
released to returned to the 192nd.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was
held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and
attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese
reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at
Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and
half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used
against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who
had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace
a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing
this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three
Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos
dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the
foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way
down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except
the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut
in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 4. On April 7, the 57th Infantry,
Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this
from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully
withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while
hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being
near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3 against the defenders. The tanks
became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle and could not
fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry
turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on
Bataan. It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile,
since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more
day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be
massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order
: "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy
within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat
vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as
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 1, 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.
On July 14, 1944, Olen's family received the last letter they were to receive from
him. He remained in the camp until late 1944.
Sometime during his imprisonment, Olen was sent to Bilibid Prison. There, he received a
physical and sent to the Port Area of Manila.
In early October 1944, 1775 POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila. When his POW
group arrived at the pier, the ship they where scheduled to sail on, the
Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the pier.
Another POW detachment, scheduled to sail on the
Arisan Maru, had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail. It was at that time that the
Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the
Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 10, the POWs boarded the
Arisan Maru and 1775 prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the ship which could hold 400 men.
They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Those POWs who had lain down in the wooden bunks along
the haul could not sit up because the bunks were so close together. The latrines for the prisoners were eight
five gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in
the floor of the hold being covered with human waste. Anton Cichy said
, "For the first few days, there were 1800 of us together in one hold. I don't know how big the
hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck together."
Calvin Graef said about the conditions in the hold
, "We were packed in so tight most men couldn't get near the cans. And, of course, it was a
physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and
dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with lice,
bedbugs and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description."
Later in the day on October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from
Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The Japanese
covered the hatch with a tarp so during the night, the POWs were in total darkness. Within the first 48 hours,
five POWs had died. Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes, but the ship
was attacked once by American planes returning from a bombing mission on the airfield on the island.
Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw rice.
Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lights. Some
of the prisoners were able to hot-wire the ship's blowers into the light power lines. This allowed fresh
air into the hold, until the power was disconnected, two days later, when the Japanese discovered what had been done.
After this was done, the POWs began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese realized
that if they did not do something many of the POWs would die. To prevent this, they opened the ship's
number two hold and transferred 600 POWs into it. At this point, one POW was shot while attempting to
Of this time, Graef said
, "As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was
maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under these
conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty five
gallon tins of fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked the cloth
dry. Men licked their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20, where it joined a twelve ship convoy. On October 21, 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 making them targets for American submarines. In addition, U.S. Military
Intelligence was reading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell
the submarine crews that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines. The POWs
in the hold became so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by torpedoes.
Graef described the deaths of the POWs hold.
"There were so many (that died) out 1800. The conditions in the hold.....men were just dying in a
continuous stream. Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died. You
were being starved, men wee dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like you were choking
to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard."
, "The Japs told us that they'd be in Formosa the next day to pick up some cargo. They had to
make room on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one but
didn't think anything about it."
According to the survivors of the
Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 4:00 P.M., some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner
for the POWs in the ship's two holds and had fed about half the POWs. The waves were high since the ship
had just passed a storm, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel. Suddenly, at 4:50 P.M., sirens and
other alarms were heard. The men inside the holds knew this meant that American submarines had been spotted
and began to chant for the submarines to sink the ship.
As the POWs, on deck watched, watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched
as a torpedo passed in front of the ship. Moments later, the Japanese ran to the ship's stern and watched
as a second torpedo passed behind the ship. There was a sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the
water. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, in its third hold where there were no POWs, but it still
killed some POWs. Those POWs still living began to cheer wildly. Cichy recalled
, "When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!' We wanted to get it over
Lt. Robert S. Overbeck recalled
, "When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and weak
He also said
, "The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn't break in
Overbeck also commented on the reaction of the POWs in the holds.
"For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed
fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips--300 of them on deck--were scurrying about, scared as
hell. The boilers exploded. I don't think any of us got hurt in the torpedoing or the
explosion. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The Japs took the two lifeboats
aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. That was about 5:00 P.M."
It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was either the
U.S.S. Snook or the
The guards took their guns and used them as clubs on the POWs who were on deck. To
escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders
and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie them down. They then abandoned the ship.
, "The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have forgot about the
prisoners on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches and
told us to come up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of guys down below. One of them
escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S. Overback,
The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. 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."
," We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so
thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the
destroyers, had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down
the hold the day before.
"But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no
resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not tell
who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been carrying Jap
troops. The men were brave and none complained.
"Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry 'so long'
The ship slowly sank lower into the water.
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the
water. At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but the
halves remained afloat. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was
sinking. Some POWs attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, rafts, and other
flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them away with poles.
Glenn Oliver said
, "They weren't picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were swimming for the destroyer,
but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water."
, "I could see people still on the ship when it went down. I could see people against the
skyline, just standing there."
In the water, he watched as the ship went under.
"I kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I
didn't ask them."
Three POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to climb in but found it had no
oars. With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the survivors,
Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. Oliver, who was not in the
boat, stated he heard men using what he called "GI whistles" to contact each other.
"They were blowing these GI whistles in the night. This weird moaning sound. I can't
The next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other POWs were picked up by a Japanese
destroyer and taken to Formosa. They later were sent by ship to Japan. The men in the boat picked up
two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom. S/Sgt. Olen C. Elwell was not one of them.
His family received this message:
"The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11,
1944, with 1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the
south China Sea over 200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners
escaped in a small boat and reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the
Japanese by whom all others aboard are reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened
to the other individual prisoners and known circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all
other prisoners listed by the Japanese as aboard the vessel perished."
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.