Ellis grew up in New Orleans and attended New Orleans Academy, a private military school before joining the NROTC at Tulane University, where he was already enrolled when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Ellis was commissioned in February 1944 along with every other junior in ROTC across the nation due to shortages of officers to man the fleet, at the age of 19. Four days later, he was shipped off to Camp Bradford, VA to train to become a LST (Landing Ship Tank) officer. The LST was a naval innovation designed to beach on invasion shores and could carry tanks, and other vehicles, as well as 120 crew members and 250 passengers.
As the Gunnery Officer onboard LST-751, Ellis was responsible for ensuring the proper training and maintenance of the anti-aircraft guns on board. Despite firing the guns only a few times, Ellis’ role as the Gunnery Officer was critical during their Pacific Ocean journey. After the Executive Officer of LST-751, who was also the navigator, accidentally ran the ship aground on a beach during training, the Commanding Officer charged Ellis with being the navigator as well as his primary duty as the Gunnery Officer. As the war went on and people went home, Ellis became the Executive Officer at the age of 21.
During his time on LST-751, Ellis was a part of the Philippines campaign, Leyte Gulf, and made it to the beach to support the allies 2 days following D-Day. It is important to note that at the time, the Navy estimated that they would lose 80-90% of LSTs throughout the war, making it a very dangerous duty.
Ellis has a family history of service in the military, with family members serving in WWI, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War, and he also has grandchildren who served in Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror.
Ellis currently volunteers at the WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA, and talks about his experience during WWII to visitors. He brings maps and pictures from his time in the Navy to better illustrate to people his life in the Navy. From the time he arrives to the time he leaves, his table is crowded full of people wanting to know more and thanking him for his sacrifice.