In Memory of
U.S. Navy Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class
Ernest Lawrence Christensen
White, South Dakota
Brookings County
October 10, 1918-October 24, 1944
Missing in Action in the Philippines

photo of a ship (name unknown)

Ernest Lawrence Christensen was born on October 10, 1918 to Mr. and Mrs. L.C.P. Christensen.  Ernest grew up in White, South Dakota, but very little information is known about his youth until he enlisted in the Navy.

Christensen was trained as a Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class and served in the Navy until the time he was captured in the Philippine Islands by the Japanese.  Pharmacist’s Mate Christensen was working at the dispensary at Bilibid Prisoner of War camps in the Philippine Islands from January, 1942 to October 11, 1944.  During this time, Christensen sent a 50 word letter saying he was well and that no one should worry.  He also sent a Christmas postcard saying “hello!” to everyone and indicated he was ok.  He was then put aboard a Japanese freighter called a Hell Ship.  Hell ships were unmarked Japanese freighters that captured and transported American Prisoners of War to Japan, China, Korea, and other surrounding countries during World War II.  Because freighters were unmarked, they were often targeted and torpedoed by Allied forces. As a result of the attacks, the Allied troops were killed by the thousands in the holds of the ships.  Whether on land or at sea, these prisoners were given no decent food or water and were forced to work as slaves until they often died of malnutrition, or were killed by their captors.

The freighter on which Pharmacist’s Mate Christensen was a prisoner, sailed near China for six days until it was torpedoed, bringing nearly 1800 prisoners down with it.  Out of the few that survived, five made it to shore and four were captured by the Japanese soldiers.  Since no one had heard from Pharmacist’s Mate Christensen since the attack, the Navy classified him as deceased.

On October 24, 1944 Pharmacist Mate Third Class Ernest Christensen’s family was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart after he was declared missing in action and buried at sea.  Memorial services were held at the Presbyterian Church in White, South Dakota, on 7/15/45

This entry was respectfully submitted by Austen Hanten, Megan Jansma, and Brooke Parsons, 8th Grade, Brandon Valley Middle School, Brandon, South Dakota, April 12, 2002.  Information for this entry was researched in the White Leader and provided by Grace Linn, Brookings, South Dakota.  Information was also researched by Ruth E. Jorgenson, “Americans Know Very Little About The HELL SHIPS of WORLD WAR II.”  29 January 2002 http://harrisonheritage .com/advc/hellship.htm.  American Battle Monuments Commission, The World War II Honor Roll, http://www.americanwardead.come/etailww.asp.  29 January 2002.