Ninety-nine-year old Allen C. Christensen roams the halls in his wheelchair of Our House Assisted Living of Tremonton. His room is decorated with flags and other patriotic memorabilia. On his wall hangs a 20×24 frame with his several military medals, his dog tags, pins and patches.
If not for the documentation of his life history as a soldier, prisoner, patriot survivor and missionary, future generations would never know about him. When he was younger he would speak to schools, churches and civic events about his life during the Second World War.
The retired mail carrier spent most of his life, except for a stint during WWII, where he was born in Elwood, Utah. Elwood is a small farming community, of less than 200 households, off of Interstate 15 near Tremonton.
Over the years, the small town has made a big deal about his patriotism. His granddaughter, Melissa Hess, said he organized the 4th of July celebration for the town, complete with flag raising ceremony, parade and candy drop from an airplane.
Christensen, known as A.C. and Ace to most people, was also asked to help create a veteran’s memorial for the City of Tremonton. His suggested theme was “All Gave Some and Some Gave All.”
The monument stands on a grassy area where the Midland Hotel stood before it burned to the ground.
The farm boy’s life started quite unremarkable. He graduated from Bear River High School in 1939. The next year he joined the U.S. Air Force and in September of 1941 his squadron was sent to the Philippines, not to fight, but to help. He and fellow troops were on a tropical island to turn a pineapple field into an airfield.
The group from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City arrived in Manila on Nov. 20, 1941. Just a few weeks later, on December 7, they received the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He said their guns and ammo where supposed to be delivered in the coming days on another ship. It never came. The Japanese had captured much of the Asian country.
By May, the soldiers were ordered by their general to surrender, or the Japanese army would obliterate them. Surrendering set the stage for the rest of the war for Christensen and his squadron. Of the 145 soldiers from Fort Douglas that were deployed to the Philippines, only 45 returned to their families.
For three and a half years, Christensen was sick, starved, beaten and worked as a slave as a prisoner of the Japanese Army. After two and a half years in the Philippines, he was sent to Japan aboard a Hell Ship.
“The weather was as hot as the name of our Hell Ship, making conditions almost beyond human endurance,” he wrote in his life history. “Men had died, gone crazy and some almost given up all hope; they would be the next to die.”
He said those that didn’t succumb in one way or another had grown stronger within. The Hell Ship he was in had boiler problems and it took them a long 90 days before they landed in Japan.
When they got to Japan, instead of using hands to slap and beat the prisoners like they did in the Philippines, the mainland soldiers used sticks about the size of a walking cane.
Christensen said one day he was struggling to break up a slag with a 12 pound hammer.
“I couldn’t work another minute,” he said. “I dropped the hammer and went to the guard and said ‘I work no more.’”
After beating him the guard took Christensen back to the barracks.
“I was about give up all hope,” he said. “I’d seen others give up hope, and by morning they were dead.”
When he thought the burden was too much, he remembered a picture of his parents and his Patriarchal Blessing he had smuggled in when he was captured.
“I read the words of my blessing over and over again and then looked at my parents,” Christensen said. “This lifted my spirits and I felt strengthened enough to hang on just a little longer, and I did eventually go back to work.”
He endured not only the treatment of his captors, but typhoons, earthquakes and bombings by American and Allied airplanes.
The war ended and Christensen came home and married Doris Farnsworth in 1947. They had two children: Timothy Jay and Rebecca (Becki).
After all the atrocities Christensen endured from the hands of his enemies, he never said a negative word about the Japanese, said his granddaughter, Melissa Hess.
“I can’t remember him saying anything bad about anyone, much less the Japanese,” Hess said. “He had a lot of neighbors who were of Japanese descent. He said there are good Japanese and bad Japanese, just like there are good people and bad people in the world.”
Hess said her grandfather loved the American flag and taught this children and grandchildren to respect the Stars and Stripes.
He and his wife Doris were called to return to Japan as missionaries in 1987. The mission president was a neighbor from Elwood, Shigiki Moriyama and his wife Mary.
The couple was ready to serve the people who had brought Christensen so much misery some 42 years earlier. He said when people found out he was a former Japanese POW, they apologized profusely and brought over food as gesture of kindness.
“Some of them even cried when we told them he had been a POW in their country,” Doris wrote.
She said the neighbors treated them like royalty leaving fruit, vegetables and rice at their doorstep.
During their time in Japan, the WWII veteran was asked to speak in many different schools, English classes and clubs during their 18 months of service.
One of his greatest challenges came when he was asked to talk to groups of people about his experiences as a POW in Japan; to the people whose country held him prisoner.
The couple from Elwood learned a lot from the people they served.
“They are easy to love,” Doris wrote in Allen’s personal history. “They are gracious, giving, polite, kind, talented and a hard-working people.”
Christensen is not much for talking anymore. His wife passed in 2015 and his memory has faded. He will turn 100 on Feb. 20, 2020.
Back at his room a young girl in a pastel uniform comes to take him to dinner. That day they had his favorite meal, grilled cheese and tomato soup.