Glenn Stuart Oliver would get calls from across the country from people hoping he’d met their loved ones while he was a prisoner of war on the Arisan Maru before the Japanese ship was torpedoed during World War II.
“We got calls from people all over the United States,” said Oliver’s daughter, Elizabeth Cook. “‘Did you know my dad?’ ‘Did you know my uncle?’ Some people never met their fathers because they died on that ship.
“My dad always took the time to talk to them. He didn’t know everyone on that ship, but he always shared that experience and made that connection with them.”
Oliver, 93, one of nine survivors of the sinking, died Nov. 25 of natural causes. He was surrounded by family at his Tacoma home. He is survived by two daughters and his wife, Esther.
Days after marrying his high school sweetheart, Oliver was called to active duty with the Army on Feb. 10, 1941, with Company A, 194th Tank Battalion. He trained with his battalion at Fort Lewis, and was sent to Fort Stotsenburg in the Philippines in September 1941.
In December, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field, where Oliver was deployed. A piece of shrapnel hit him in the head during an attack the next month, and he received a Purple Heart.
Oliver survived the Bataan Death March in 1942, in which thousands of U.S. and Filipino POWs died. He also spent time at the notorious Cabanatuan POW camp.
In 1944, he was one of more than 1,800 POWs loaded into the two front holds of the Arisan Maru to be sent to Japan. Oliver estimated he was held with 18 other people in a 6-by-16-foot space on the ship, Cook said.
U.S. submarines attacked the convoy, and torpedoes cut the ship in half. Of the nine who survived the sinking, four – including Oliver – were picked up by another Japanese convoy. He was taken to a Japanese prison camp.
After the war, he weighed about 85 pounds and was treated at Madigan Army Medical Center. He was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in November 1946.
Oliver settled on Tacoma’s East Side, where he and his wife raised their two daughters.
He worked for ASARCO and eventually became a senior locomotive engineer. At the same time, he ran his own radio and television repair shop in Tacoma.
Ice skating and skiing were favorite family hobbies.
His religious faith and his love for his wife got Oliver through the war, daughter Cindy Wakatsuki said.
“His wartime experience was a really important part of his life, but it by no means defined him,” Wakatsuki said. “His biggest legacy is his love for our family.”
A service for Glenn Stuart Oliver will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in the Garden Chapel at the Mountain View Memorial Park at 4100 Steilacoom Blvd. SW.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268