By Jennifer Martin - email
As World War II got underway, Truman Ellis left his job at a Jackson bank and joined the Navy to avoid being drafted in the Army. He first assignment was on a base in Memphis, disbursing checks. After a year, he was onboard the U.S.S. Electra.
"What we did was carry supplies on the ship that was of course, food water ammunition bombs, shells, oil.. just everything you needed when you move in on a target," Ellis said.
Ellis would run the ship's clothing store and general store. After training maneuvers, they headed to Hawaii, where they loaded up and shipped out. Their destination, The Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. As other ships invaded, the Electra waited in a lagoon, supplying LST's to take supplies to the troops. After about a week, they were sent on another invasion.
"The supply officer that I worked for called me and another guy in and said we gonna do this invasion and they need a man from this department for a boat pool. Neither one of us volunteered so he said 'Truman, I think I'll have to use you because the other guy is married and has a family.' And I thought 'it sounds like he doesn't think I'm gonna come back'," Ellis recalled.
The boat pools sent men from the ship with supplies to an island. Once there, they would stay there as long as needed.
"We came to Engebi, a little island at the upper end," Ellis said. "This little island was shot all to pieces by bombs and shells."
Engebi was largely secured, but there were still some Japanese dug in. It was hot and the smell was terrible.
"When you have 13-1400 dead bodies and nobody cleaning up, it gets bad, bad, bad. In addition to that there are a lot of bombs and even shells that don't explode when they hit the ground," Ellis added.
American forces worked to clear the explosives and get the island's airstrip operational again. Ellis and his friends entertained themselves hunting for souvenirs from the island.
"One of the things I brought was a wallet and I brought a picture album," Ellis said.
He stayed there 7 months. He then spent a year at a base in Pearl Harbor and was discharged after the war was over. He went back to work at the same bank in Jackson and stayed there until he retired. In 1992 Ellis decided he wanted to return that souvenir photo album to the family of Jatarou Yoshimura, the Japanese soldier it once belonged to.
"I received a letter from the family and you wouldn't believe how nice they were and how many expressions of appreciation they gave me. They said this is the only thing we have of Jatarou," Ellis added.
That began a long letter writing relationship. The experience prompted Ellis to write a book about his time in the Navy.
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