elwell

 

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.

    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 arrived.
    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 Clark Airfield. 
    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 Baluiag2nd 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. 
    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 Bataan.
    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 bridge.
    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 Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    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. Weaver, "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.
    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.
    On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane.  He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.  Three members of the company were killed.
    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 exploded.
    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 to Corregidor.
    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 accomplished."    

    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. 
    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.  Eight large cans served as the washroom facilities for the POWs.
    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 while there.
    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 escape.
    The 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 messages 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.
    According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, about 5:00 pm, some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's two holds.  The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel.  Suddenly, 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.
    The waves were high since a storm had just passed.  At about 5:50 P.M., as the POWs watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and 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.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S. Snook.
    The Japanese 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.
    Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped them to the men in the holds.  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."  The ship 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.  It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs.  Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal, because they wanted to die with full stomachs.  Other POWs took to the water with anything that would float.  
    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, the Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944.  The men in the boat heard cries for help, which became fewer and fewer, until there was silence.  The next day they picked up two more survivors.  Four other men were picked up by a Japanese ship and taken to Formosa.

    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.


 








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