Pvt. Olen Jay Gilson was born on January 22, 1919, in East Liverpool, Ohio to Joseph O. Gilson and Delila Cornell-Gilson. With his three brothers and four sisters, he grew up at 1731 Globe Street in East Liverpool. It is known his mother died in 1935. He graduated from Pleasent Heights School and completed three years of high school before going to work as a clerk at Emmerlings Clover Farm Store in East Liverpool. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and named his sister as his contact person. On March 22, 1941, Olen was inducted into the U.S. Army at Cleveland, Ohio, and sent to Fort Knox for basic training.
Basic training for the selectees was rushed. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterward, they attended the various schools to which they had been assigned, such as mechanics, tank driving, and radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms, and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. During his training, he was sent to radio school and qualified as a radio operator. He was able to write home, and said, “We’re doing fine.“ “We” meant Eugene Greenfield and himself. He also 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 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 sent to 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. 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 of HQ Company.
The decision for this move may have been made as early as August 1941 and 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 a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds 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.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
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 11th. 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, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan. 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. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” 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, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service. The members of the battalion pitched ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” which they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX. For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Hq Company remained behind in their bivouac.
The tank companies were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up near the pilots’ mess hall to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The tankers were eating lunch when they saw 54 planes approaching the airfield from the north. From under the planes, they saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Most of the tankers could do nothing but watch since their weapons were not meant to fight planes. When the Japanese finished bombing, the fighters came in and strafed the airfield. Although under orders not to fire at the planes, many of the tank crews did. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13. For the next four months, he ran messages from headquarters to the various companies of the battalion. This was often done on the frontlines under combat conditions.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough fuel for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry. The platoon engaged the Japanese resulting in the loss of one tank and the capture of its crew. The other tanks withdrew but were damaged and later repaired. After the remaining tanks of B and C Companies were refueled, they made their way to Lingayen Gulf. On the trip, they went through an area where the Philippine Scouts had fought the Japanese, As they passed through it, they saw body parts and discarded equipment everywhere. When they arrived at Lingayen Gulf, there they found themselves on a ridge overlooking the beach where the Japanese were landing troops. The tankers wanted to fire on the landing barges but were ordered to withdraw from the ridge. The crews later realized that the Japanese destroyers that were offshore would have annihilated them in minutes with their guns. They were then asked to make a counter-attack on the same ridge they had vacated and failed to retake it.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27 and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlac-Cabanatuan Line and were near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28 and 29. 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 2 to 4, 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 Remedios 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 leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan. On the night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. The 194th crossed the bridge covered by the 192nd and then covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge before it was destroyed by the engineers. The 192nd was the last unit to enter Bataan. During 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.
A composite tank company was formed the following day under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, 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 blown, 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. At this time, 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. 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-Hacienda 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 column of trucks that 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 supposed 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 coastline 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. While doing this job, the tankers noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked. This time they were met from fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. 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 gunfire. 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 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 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 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 return to the 192nd.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they were had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. 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 used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they would not smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter, was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried inside the tank, by the Japanese who threw dirt into the tank. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned on its side to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. During this time, the tankers had few if any breaks from the fighting. It was at this time that John wrote a letter to his sister. In it, he mentioned that they had been involved in heavy fighting. His sister did not receive the letter until April 1943.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough, but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was 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, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
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. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that 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.”
That evening, 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 soldiers piled up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. The only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.” Many of the soldiers took the news as meaning they would be free from the constant shelling and air raids. At the time, the Provisional Tank Group’s Headquarters was near Limay, and shelled from Corregidor were falling around it. The soldiers on Corregidor had no idea that the barrio was still in American hands and was shelling the area. That night, he watched as ammunition dumps were destroyed. Usually, when one was torched, there was a loud thud and flames shot into the sky.
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag that morning. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
On April 11, the soldiers had their first contact with the Japanese. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions out to the road that ran near their encampment. They were now Prisoners of War. Once on the road, they were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. Robert was now officially a Prisoner of War. The Japanese soldiers, passing them, took whatever they wanted from the Americans. The POWs remained along the sides of the road for hours. The company boarded their trucks and rode to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Once there, they disembarked the trucks and ordered them to Mariveles airfield. They sat at the airfield for hours without food or water. They did not know it at the time, but they were experiencing the “sun treatment.” As the POWs sat at the airfield, a line of Japanese soldiers began to form in front of them. The POWs soon realized that the Japanese were forming a firing squad. As Robert and the other men watched, a Japanese Naval officer pulled up in a car and got out. He spoke to the sergeant in charge and got back into the car and drove off. The sergeant ordered his men to lower their guns.
The POWs were ordered to move and had no idea that had started what they simply called, “the march.” The first five miles were uphill which was hard on malnourished and sick men. At one point they had to run past Japanese artillery that was firing on Corregidor. As they ran past the guns, they realized that the Japanese were using other POWs as human shields by making them sit in a field in front of the guns. The four Japanese guns fired at Ft. Drum and Corregidor and the two American fortresses began returning fire. Since there was no place to hide, the POWs hit the dirt and several were killed during the artillery exchange. The American artillery did knock out three of the four guns.
The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace so they could finish their assigned section. Those men who were sick had a hard time keeping up and if they fell out were bayoneted or shot. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The new guards also wanted to complete their portion of the march as fast as possible, do the POWs again found themselves moving at a fast pace. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery.
The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they at there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese riding past them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march. The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbwire, and told to sit. It is not known how long he remained in the bullpen. At some point, the POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights,” since each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each detachment had 100 men, the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floors. At Capas, as the living left the cars, those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw banana, mangos, rice cakes, and sugarcane to the POWs and water. The guards did not stop them.
From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O’ Donnell an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp on April 1, 1942. The Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. The POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any blankets, knives, matches, and extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. The prisoners were then allowed to go to their barracks.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This was often done so the Japanese could bathe and wanted more water. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who found the piping and dug the trench for the waterline. When the Japanese turned the water off, the POWs had the ability to turn it back on again without the Japanese knowing.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men but those who did sleep in one slept in a barracks it was with as many 80 to 120 men. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The ranking American officer asked the Japanese for medical supplies, additional food, and materials to repair the roofs because they were leaking. This resulted in his being beaten with a broadsword. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. The Japanese Red Cross sent a truck of medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. A second truck was sent by the Red Cross with medical supplies, but it was turned away at the gate of the camp. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, the bodies of 80 dead POWs laid under the hospital awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of POWs healthy enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. Many of these men returned to the camp from work details only to die. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria. When they buried the dead, the next morning many were found sitting up in their graves or that the dead had been dug up by wild dogs.
In May, a detail of POWs went out on a work detail to Clark Field to fill in the craters that had been made during the attack. From medical records, it can be determined that Gilson was selected for this detail and left Camp O’Donnell. At Clark Field, the POWs lived in the barracks, with bunks and mattresses, that many of them had lived in before the war.
The original guards were combat troops who found the detail easy and wanted to stay on it as long as possible. They did not care how much work the POWs got done. The POWs worked long hours, starting at 6:00 A.M., working long hours, even during the typhoon season, without a day off. They were fed twice a day but the amount of food was inadequate. The Japanese did not give the POWs any medical supplies, and if they had them it was because the POWs had scrounged them.
While he was on the detail, his family received two messages from the War Department. The first arrived in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. D. Gilson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Olen J. Gilson, 35,014,947, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Olen J. Gilson had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
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. About the time he arrived there two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
On June 23, 1943, his name appeared on a list released by the War Department of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. His parents were informed he was a POW weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON OLEN J GILSON IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his family received the following letter:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Olen J. Gilson, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau”
On August 15, 1943, Owen was sent out on a work detail to Las Pinas to build runways at an airfield in September 1943. With the arrival of his POW detachment, there were 800 POWs working on building a runway at Nichols Field. The POWs built the runways with picks and shovels and had to remove hills by hand.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and “bongo” or count at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men and then exercises. After this, came breakfast, which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and a half to the airfield. After arriving at the airfield, the POWs were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again and were counted again when they arrived at the camp. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice, and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and “bongo” or count at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and a half to the airfield. After arriving at the airfield, the POWs were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp. Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills some of which were 80 feet high. The POWs flattened the hills by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheelbarrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again, and when they arrived back at the school, they were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, they were counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
The POWs worked under the supervision of the 103rd Construction Unit by order of the Southern Third Fleet. The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the “White Angel” because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was the commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn’t four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, “Tell them I went down smiling.” There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The American captain told the other Americans what had happened. The White Angel told them that this was what was going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as “the Wolf.” He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man’s arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion, a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man’s head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin. A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway, and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in wooden boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
The medical treatment of the POWs was poor. The Japanese issued little of the Red Cross medical supplies that came into the camp. The POW doctors said there was not enough medicine to cure an ailment but just enough to prolong the ailment. Many of the POWs had malaria but there was a lack of quinine and carborine, and there was no emetine to cure amoebic dysentery. The doctors’ requests for medicines were repeatedly turned down by the Japanese commanding officer. If they performed surgery, the operations were performed without anesthetics or proper medical equipment. The Japanese only allowed 80 POWs to be on sick call each day, and the Japanese determined which men were sick enough not to work.
The bodies of those who died on the detail were sent in sealed coffins to Bilibid Prison. Once there, the POW doctors were expected to issue death certificates with causes of death dictated by the Japanese. The sick POWs who arrived from the detail were described as skeletons. They also told about the brutality and how other POWs on the detail were killed by the Japanese.
It was September 21, 1944, at the end of the workday when a large formation of planes approached the airfield. At first, the POWs thought they were Japanese. It was only when the planes began bombing and strafing the airfield that they knew the planes were American. The next day the Japanese ended the detail the other POWs were sent to Manila. There, they were held at Bilibid Prison. This former Spanish prison was used by the Japanese as a clearinghouse for POWs being sent to another part of the Japanese Empire. At the prison, he was reunited with other C Company members. Life for the men was monotonous since the prison was surrounded by high walls and the POWs could see nothing.
The POWs were taken to Pier 7 in Manila on October 1, 1944, and the detachment of POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru. The POWs were forced into the ship’s hold until there was no room. The POWs went three days without water and the temperature in the holds rose to over 100 degrees. The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater where it remained for three days. Men began going crazy and began screaming. The Japanese threatened to cover the holds unless those screaming stopped. To stop these men from screaming, the POWs killed them by strangling them or beating them to death with canteens.
It was said by men on the ship that there were 750 prisoners crowded into a hold just a few feet larger than a master bedroom. They also said that their food was a little rice and very little water, that there was no ventilation or sanitary facilities, that many died of suffocation, and that most of the POWs suffered from dysentery and malaria. In the hold, there was no place to lie down, so the POWs rested on top of a pile of coal. The POWs stood and squatted with their knees under their chins, in shifts, all of the 38 days they were in the hold. The only time the men were permitted on the deck was to go to the latrine, and when this was done, only one man was permitted on the deck at a time and only for a few minutes.
At first, the POWs were allowed on deck to relieve themselves. But this was changed to buckets tied to ropes that were used to haul the excrement from the hold. As they were pulled up, the buckets hit the hold’s walls spilling the waste onto the POWs. At 5:00 P.M., steamed rice was sent down in buckets, but most of the POWs were too sick to eat. Those who could eat ate as much as they could. Water was also sent down in pockets, and it appears that there was simply not enough for all the POWs.
As part of a ten-ship convoy, it sailed again on October 4 and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk. The attacks continued for the next several days and the POWs lived in fear of the ship being sunk. The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong when it was informed American planes were in the area. The ships changed course during this part of the trip and attempted to reach Hong Kong. The ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships.
The Hokusen Maru arrived in Hong Kong on October 11 and the POWs were allowed on deck 50 at a time. Some of the POWs were allowed to wash with seawater. While it was in port on October 16, 27 B-29s bombed the harbor followed by 8 P-51s. The ship nearest to the Hokusen Maru took several hits and was a wreck. The ship left the dock on October 18 and moved around the harbor. A bomb from a sole plane hit near the ship while it was maneuvering in the harbor. On October 21, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa. Two days later, the POWs heard explosions as several ships were hit by torpedos from American submarines. It was said by Capt. Alvin Poweleit, that the ships were sinking before the debris from the explosions hit the water. The ships were close enough to Taiwan for the Japanese to send out planes that dropped depth charges.
The ship sailed through a storm and the hatches were covered. During this time several POWs died. On October 29, four survivors of the Arisan Maru were put on the ship. One of the men was dying but the other three were in good health. When they were allowed to talk to the other POWs, they told them about the ships sinking and how the POWs were left to die.
According to some sources, only three of the ten ships in the convoy reached the island. The ship finally arrived at Takao, Taiwan, on November 5. The POWs were brought up on deck for physicals by Japanese doctors. Some were so weak that they had to be pulled from the holds with ropes. It was at this time that it was estimated that 200 POWs had died during the trip. The POWs were marched down the gang blank and taken ashore that same day. The POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched through Takao. The Chinese threw stones at them. The POWs were sent to Inrin Temporary which was specifically opened for them. Those who were really weak only did light work. The healthier POWs were sent to a sugar mill where they were worked pretty hard.
Olen was one of 294 POWs taken to a schoolhouse that was near the town of Tohoku in Taiwan. Since most of the POWs were weak from the length of the trip that it took to reach Taiwan, 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.
In January 1945, most of the POWs were boarded onto the Enoshima Maru which sailed on January 25 and arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 30th. After arriving, Olen was taken to Tokyo #23, where the POWs worked as stevedores and in ship construction.
The camp commander, Lieutenant Ryohei Tanaka, of Tokyo 23-D was also the camp commander of Tokyo 11-D since the two camps were located close to each other. The POWs lived in flimsily constructed wooden barracks at Camp 23-D. Along the two longest walls were two tiers of platforms for them to sleep on. The heat was inadequate during the winter and the POWs slept close together to keep warm.
Punishment was a part of the daily life of the POWs and there were beatings that involved slapping, punching, kicking, or hitting the POWs with sticks. Beatings were done with rifle butts, clubs, and other objects. The POWs also had judo used on them. In freezing weather, as they stood at attention, water was thrown over them. Those POWs being punished also had their food ration reduced. Lining the POWs in formation at the end of a workday and beating them happened frequently. Who was hit was done randomly and with a pole that was 4 feet long and 3½ inches thick. On February 13, 1945, the POWs were made to stand at attention and as they stood there, they were hit across their faces with a wooden sword.
The POWs marched to work. It was common for beatings to take place going to and coming from the plant. The POWs worked in a chemical plant owned by Suzuki without the proper safety equipment. The POWs worked in areas where the plant was open to the elements. Their shoes were in such bad shape that many of them had frozen feet from working in 3 inches of snow. They also only had cotton clothing and no overcoats to protect them from the cold. POWs had the job of shoveling aluminum scrap into trucks. The plant dissolved aluminum with chemicals and a large amount of chlorine gas was omitted. The POWs worked in the room where this was done and did not receive protective clothing or respirators to protect them from emissions. Many of them suffered from skin irritations, lung problems, and coughing spells. The Japanese, each night, made the POWs gargle with a solution of permanganate of potash to clean their throats. Since there was no heat, the POWs were constantly on the move and worked hard to keep warm. Beatings also took place at the worksite with the POWs lined up and beaten in front of the Japanese workers with rifle butts and fists.
For Christmas, the POWs were issued Red Cross 56 boxes to be sure among the POWs. Each box had something different removed. They were informed by Lt. Tnanka that they were expected to give up a part of the parcel to the camp interpreter, a few other civilians, and himself. From December 1944 until the surrender, Red Cross boxes were withheld from the POWs and only given out on January 23, March 8, and April 22. Each time, the forced donation took place. What was sent for the POWs in the Red Cross boxes was also misappropriated by the Japanese for their own use. The camp CO was seen wearing shirts, sweaters, and shoes from the boxes. One guard brought his wife and children to the camp and clothed them in Red Cross clothing. The camp staff ate food, candy, and smoked American cigarettes. They also used American brand toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap.
A British Naval Radio Officer, Alan Stewart, was severely beaten after appealing to the camp CO, Lt. Tnanka, on several occasions, for food and medical treatment for Robert M. Herback who was dying, Herbeck later died being worked to death while ill. He simply collapsed and died while working.
In April 1945, the air raids began and became more frequent. The POWs dragged 14 steel tanks made with 3/8 inch steel from the factory to the camp to make air raid shelters by burying them in the ground and covering them with dirt. Although adequate to protect the POWs from shrapnel and incendiary bombs, the camp did not have enough air-raid shelters for the POWs, and the POWs were prevented from using the ones that did exist. Instead, the POWs were locked in the barracks and told to lie on their bunks and cover themselves with their blankets. The first air raid took place on April 4 at 1:45 A.M. Bombs fell around the camp but none fell in the camp. All the windows in the POW barracks were blown out by the shockwaves and the camp kitchen was damaged. No POWs were injured. The POWs spent the next day in camp repairing the damage. Three days later another air raid by 100 B-29s and P-51s took place but it was further from the camp.
The POWs learned of President Roosevelt’s death on the 12th and stated the Japanese celebrated as if his death would change the outcome of the war. At 9:25 P.M. on the 15th air raid sirens went off and by 10:00 P.M. bombers were dropping their loads. Once again incendiary bombs landed around the camp setting buildings on fire. The POWs were outside throwing water on the barracks to keep them from going up in flames. To them, it seemed like everything around the camp was on fire and that the planes were coming low over the camp to insure not to hit it. The only thing that saved the camp from burning was that the wind changed directions.
The next day the POWs did not work since there was no power, water, or transportation. The Japanese civilians roamed the streets since they were homeless, and what little they had, they carried with them. When the POWs did go to work a few days later, they saw the destruction. Buildings at the steel mill were still burning days after the attack. The steel beams of destroyed buildings were bent because of the heat from the fires.
On May 22, 250 American B-29’s dropped incendiary bombs on Kawasaki. The bombs landed on all sides of the camp, but not one bomb landed within the camp, even though the air raid lasted for four hours. It was said that the POWs welcomed the bombers. The POWs stated it was the largest air raid they had seen until the one that took place on the 25th which started at 10:30 P.M. and lasted until 1:30 in the morning. Another air raid on the 29th that started at 8:00 A.M. was said to be even larger with as many as 600 planes taking part in the bombing. The air raid finally ended at 4:30 P.M. The air raids continued into June and July. On July 13, 28 POWs died when the barrack they were in was hit by a bomb. Not long after this Tokyo 23-D was closed and many of the POWs were sent to Kawasaki #1-B. It needs to be mentioned that Owen was listed on a roster of POWs from Tokyo #4 and #5 who were sent to another camp. How long he was there and when he arrived in the camp is not known.
After liberation, Olen was returned to the Philippines before being sent home. He sailed from Manila on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman, and arrived at San Francisco, on October 3, 1945, nearly four years since he had sailed from the port. Olen arrived home on October 20, 1945, and was hospitalized at Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.
He was discharged from the Army on April 11, 1946, and he married Mary Margaret Wilson and became the father of two sons. The family 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, and was buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.