Saalman Family Website by todd saalman

Otis Edward Saalman

30 Jan 1913 - 24 May 1989

Otis in World War II

Otis Edward Saalman of Branchville, Indiana, the son of Emmett Edward Saalman and geat-grandson of Reinhart Gottfried Christian Saalmann, made his career with the US Army. He retired after World War II with the rank of Major after having served in the Philippine Islands.

In December, 1941 the Japanese Army invaded the Philippines the day after their attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While some notations hold that Otis was a Captain on staff in Manila at this time, detailed accounts have him listed as a First Lieutenant in May, 1942.

At any rate, the American garrison on the islands was greatly outnumbered, and cut off from all supplies and reinforcements, due to the loses on the American fleet.

The American and Filipino forces resisted the Japanese invasion for six months, inflicting heavy casualties on the Japanese, forcing them to delay plans to extend their conquests in the Pacific.

This delay was fatal to the Japanese battle plan because America was able to recover from the initial Japanese attack, convert industries to mass production of war materials and recruit and train overwhelming forces.


In the Philippines the Americans were gradually forced to retreat down the Bataan Peninsula until trapped, they were finally compelled to surrender. Otis became a prisoner of the Japanese.

The Japanese General whose plans had been frustrated for so long determined to punish his prisoners for their stubborn resistance. He forced the sick and starving survivors to march the length of the Bataan (pronounced locally bä"tä-än') peninsula to the distant prison camps he had established.

In the tropical heat, no food, water or shelter was provided, no rest was permitted, and any prisoner who could not keep up on the march was bayoneted, beheaded or shot to death.

This forced journey was known as the notorious Bataan Death March

Bataan captives

Bataan March Prisoners

Of the thousands of Americans who started the march, only a third were alive at the end. But some prisoners were able to escape, including Otis and a companion. They headed back to the fortress island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, the only part of the Phillipines still under American control. They found the Corregidor garrison completely surrounded, suffering from numerous tropical diseases, and virtually out of food, medical supplies and ammunition.

A few days before the surrender of Corregidor, when the commander of Company S was wounded, First Lieutenant Otis Saalman was assigned to command his unit in the defense of the island, and they repulsed several Japanese attacks until their ammunition was exhausted. Subjected to a constant and intense artillery bombardment for weeks, the garrison was finally forced to surrender in June, 1942 when a Japanese attack overwhelmed the island.

For his bravery in combat at both Bataan and Corregidor, Otis was awarded two Silver Star medals, the third highest military decoration given to members of the United States Armed Forces.


Otis was recaptured, and spent more than three years in Japanese prison camps in the Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan), Korea and Manchuria. Three days before the American invasion which liberated the Philippines, his captors loaded him onto a prison ship for transportation to Formosa. The unmarked ship was attacked and bombed twice by American warplanes, hit both times and nearly sunk.

Mukden Prisoner of War Camp

He was finally freed at the end of the war when Russian soldiers overran the Japanese prison camp in Manchuria where he was being held. When liberated in August, 1945 Otis weighed only 92 pounds. His release came none too early; he was suffering from a nearly fatal case of dysentery. His conduct as a prisoner earned Otis the Distinguished Service Cross the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army, awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.

(Note: Otis may actually be pictured in the Mukden photo, above. His daughter, Chris, writes: "The face I'm drawn to has a rag or towel on his head. Towards the right side of the photo, standing behind a guy with a dark shirt. I just don't know." - 9/27/09. Click on the photo to view an enlargement.)

Back Home in Branchville

Tell City News, Friday, January 17, 1958

Upon his return to the United States, Otis was re-assigned to military bases in Texas and taught military science and tactics. After five years of this, health problems arising from his ordeal in captivity forced him to leave the military, but did not slow him down. He finished two university degrees and became involved in community and political life as well as teaching in local schools. Read this Tell City News article provided by Marion Saalman, for additional details of Otis' life after the war.

In retirement Otis gave a lot of attention to Christian Saalman's grave. He was involved in getting Christian's pipe returned to the Andersonville National Prisoner of War Museum.

He also got the federal government to replace Christian's original grave marker, which misspelled his name as "Soilman", with one that did spell it correctly.

In 1986, Otis sold a portion of his farm, originally purchased by Christian's son / Otis' grandfather, Christopher Columbus, to The Indiana Nature Conservancy in order to protect the unique flora and geology found there. These 100 acres, 60 of which came from Otis' farm and 40 of which were added later from an adjacent neighbor, Randall Pollard, a distant cousin, are now called Saalman Hollow , an exceptional, Indiana State Nature Preserve.

Otis died on May 24th, 1989, just three years before Howard and Todd Saalman found their Indiana cousins and all this became known to them.

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