Ellis

Sgt. Ralph Arnold Ellis


     Sgt. Ralph Arnold Ellis was born January 14, 1916, to George M. Ellis and  Isabella Hayes-Ellis.  With his two sisters, he lived at 1408 South Sixth Avenue Maywood, Illinois.  Ralph attended Garfield Elementary School and Proviso Township High School, where he was in the choir.  His hobbies were collecting stamps and classical records.  He was also a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
    Ralph joined the Illinois National Guard in September 1940, because he knew that it was just a matter of time before he would be drafted.  He was called to active duty in November 1940 with the other members of the 33rd Tank Company and left by train for Ft. Knox on November 28th.  He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was formed in January 1941.
    At Camp Polk, Louisiana, Ralph took part in the maneuvers of 1941 by keeping the tanks of the battalion running.   After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as had been expected.  It was on the side of a hill that the 192nd was informed that they were being sent overseas.  Ralph received a leave to go home and say goodbye to family and friends.  It was at this time that he became engaged to, Virginia Vertuno, the sister of Russell Vertuno of B Company.  

    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 2 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, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field, but he had only learned of their arrival a few days earlier.  He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
  

    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half.  At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles.  Meals were brought to them by food trucks.  
    At six in the morning on December 8th, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort.  They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength at the perimeter of airfield.  All morning the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers were having lunch and watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
 
    On December 28th, he sent home a telegram that read,
"Everyone fine. Season Greetings. Tell Folks."  Sgt. Ralph Ellis, 192nd.  From this time on until April 9th, he and other members of HQ Company, worked to keep the battalion tanks running.
    The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese.  The only thing they were told not to destroy were 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, "Their last supper."
    The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire.  They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders.  At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.
    From Mariveles, the POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks which were moving south.  At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before.  When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst.   It was at this time that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese.  Looking at them, they realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.
    When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river.  The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank.  Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O'Donnell.
    At Limay on April 11, the officers with the rank of major or above, were put into a school yard.  The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march.  At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination.  It was there that the lower ranking officers and the enlisted men joined the main column of POWs being marched out of Bataan. For the first time, they began to witness the abuse of POWs as they walked through Balanga to Orani.
    At Orani, the men were put into a bull pen where they were ordered to lay down.  In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen.  At noon, they received their first food.
    When they resumed the march they were marched at a faster pace.  The guards also seemed to be nervous about something.  The POWs made their way to just north of Hormosa. where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the change of surface made the march easier.  When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
    The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks.  When they arrived at San Fernando, the POWs were put into another bull pen and remained until they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.
    At some point marched the POWs were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors.  The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died but could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall.  The POWs rode the train to Capas were they disembarked the cars.  As they left the cars, the dead fell to the floors.  The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.  When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any 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.  These POWs had been executed for looting.
    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 situation improved when a second faucet was added.
    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.  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 Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp.  When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
    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 area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
    Work details were sent out on a daily basis.  Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier 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.  The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.  The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
    On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas.  There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards.  At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan.  The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup.  From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
    To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp.  The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch.  It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.  The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening.  Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them.Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
    The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men.  The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting.  The result was many became ill.
   Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call.  While they stood at attention, it wasn't uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads.  In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.  While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard.  Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
    The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards.  The ward for the sickest POWs was known as "Zero Ward," which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted.  The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die.  Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each.  Each man had a two foot wide by six foot long area to lie in.  The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
    Ralph was later sent to Manila and was held at the Bachrach Garage.  The POWs on this detail repaired mechanical equipment.  On this detail were Roger Heilig, Arthur Van Pelt, Warren Hidebrandt and Daniel Boni of B Company.  He apparently became ill and was returned to Cabanatuan.
    At some point, Ralph was sent to Clark Field to build runways and revetments.   He was a replacement worker for another POW who had been sent to Bilibid Prison due to illness.  He remained there until August 17, 1944, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison for health reasons and remained there for several months.
    Early on October 3, 1944, Ralph and the other POWs were sent to the Port Area of Manila for processing and shipment to Japan.  Ralph's group of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, which was ready to sail, but the entire detachment had not arrived.   Since another group of POWs was ready to sail but their ship was not ready, the Japanese switched detachments so the ship could sail.

    Ralph's POW detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11th.  1803 POWs were packed into a hold that could hold 400 men.  The conditions in the hold was so bad that five POWs died within the first 48 hours.

    Some of the POWs found that although the Japanese had removed the light bulbs in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the lighting system.  The POWs were able to hot wire the hold's ventilators into the lighting system, and they had fresh air for two days.  When the Japanese realized what they POWs had done, they turned off the power to the lights.
  
  After this, the prisoners began to develop heat blisters.  The Japanese soon realized that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship.  To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's first hold which was partially filled with coal.  During the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape.  During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces of water and two rations of rice.
    
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th, where, it joined a convoy.  On October 21st, after loading bananas and other foods, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The Japanese also issued life jackets to the POWs which could float for about two hours.  According to survivors, all this did was reinforced in the Americans the fear of being killed by their own countrymen.   
    The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs.  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 crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines.

    The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines.  
At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner.  About half the POWs on the ship had been fed.  When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship.  The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship. 
    The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the #2 hold.  Once they were in the hold they cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover.  
    Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark amidship killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly.  A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death.  
The Japanese abandoned ship leaving the POWs to die.    
    POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds.  The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck.  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."
    According to surviving POWs, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but remain 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.  These men wanted to die with full stomachs.
    As the ship got lower in the water, some of the POWs attempted to survive by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, clinging to rafts, and clinging to other flotsam and jetsam.  The majority of the POWs still were on the ship.  The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark.  
    Three POWs found a lifeboat that the Japanese had abandoned, but since they had no oars and the waves were rough, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs.  The surviving POWs stated that the cries for help slowly faded away.  Most of the POWs, if not all, were dead.  The next morning, they rescued two other men.
    In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking.  Only eight of these men survived the war.  
 
    Sgt. Ralph A. Ellis died on October 24, 1944, in the sinking of the Arisan Maru.  He was 28 years old.  Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.

 

 

 

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