|Pfc. Lester Raymond
Pfc. Lester R. Buggs was the son of Emil A. Buggs
& Helen Ohl-Buggs. He was born on October
1, 1918, and grew up at 618 South Academy Street in
Janesville, Wisconsin. He was employed as a
linesman for the Works Projects
Administration. With his brother, Melvin,
he joined the 32nd Battalion Tank Company of the
Wisconsin National Guard in Janesville in April,
1940. Another member of the tank company was
his cousin, Wayne
In the fall of 1940, Lester was called to federal service when the tank company was federalized for one year. At Fort Knox, Lester trained with his tank company for nearly a year. The company was now A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
In early 1941, Lester, his brother, Melvin, and his cousin, Wayne were transferred to HQ Company when it was formed. His duties included keeping the letter companies supplied with ammunition, gasoline and food.
The battalion next was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where they took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
He and his brother returned home to say their goodbyes to friends and family. Returning to Camp Polk, the battalion was sent over different train routes for San Francisco. There, they were transported by boat to Angel Island, It was from this army base that the 192nd left the United States for the Philippine Islands.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on October 29th for Guam. When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward King. King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
For the next four months Lester fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He and the other members of HQ Company learned of the surrender from Capt. Fred Bruni. On that day. Lester and his brother, Melvin, became POWs.
The members of HQ Company remained in their bivouac for two days before the Japanese arrived and ordered them to move out onto the road that ran past the encampment. After moving out onto the road, they were ordered to kneel along the shoulders of the road and place their belongings in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their belongings.
The soldiers were ordered to move. Since they had trucks and the Japanese wanted the trucks at Mariveles, they were allowed to ride the trucks to the barrio. Once at Mariveles, they were ordered out of the trucks and told to sit in a field.
As the POWs sat, they saw a group of Japanese soldiers forming in front of them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad. As they sat and watched, a Japanese officer pulled up in a jeep and got out. he walked up to the sergeant and spoke to him for several minutes. As they watched, the Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to disband. The Japanese officer got into his jeep and drove away.
Lester took part in the death march. His recollection of the march was as follows. "We just dragged ourselves along the road expecting to reach something pretty good, but it wasn't there." He and the other prisoners went days without food and water.
At San Fernando, Lester and the other POWs were put in small wooden boxcars and road to Capas. As they left the cars, the bodies of the dead fell out. From Capas, he walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
As a prisoner, Lester was first held at Camp O'Donnell. There he worked in the camp hospital. The hospital was divided into wards. Lester was assigned to work with the prisoners who had dysentery. The ward he was assigned to was known as "Zero Ward".
Later, Leter was reassigned and worked in a ward where the men had malaria. While working there, he contracted the disease. When Cabanatuan opened Lester remained behind at Camp O'Donnell. He was finally discharged from the hospital on July 5th and sent to Cabanatuan. At some point he came down with malaria and remained in the hospital for nearly a year. During this time, he also suffered from diphtheria and yellow jaundice.
It is not known when, but Lester was sent to Bilibid Prison. But, it was from there that he was sent to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. He was boarded onto to Clyde Maru and sent to Japan. The ship sailed on July 23, 1943, and went to Santa Cruz, Zambales. It remained in port three days and loaded manganese ore. On July 26th, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa.
On July 28th, the ship arrived at Takao. On August 5th, it sailed as part of a nine ship convoy. The convoy arrived at Moji on August 7, 1943. They were marched to a train station and rode a train to Omuta. After a two day train trip, the POWs arrived at the camp on August 10th.
In Japan. Lester was held at Fukuoka Camp #17 at Omuta. The barracks at the camp were 20 feet wide by 120 feet long. Each one was divided into ten rooms which were shared by four to six POWs each.
The POWs worked in a coal mine. They had to work bent over since they were taller than the average Japanese miner. A work day was twelve hours long, six days a week. The Japanese made the POWs mine areas which had cracks in the ceiling indicating a cave-in might take place. One was known as the "hotbox" because of its temperatures.
During his time at the camp, he suffered from beriberi. While he was there, the camp was hit by bombs from American planes. The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they moved in with the British and Dutch POWs.
On August 18, 1944, a short wave message from Japan listed him as a POW. This was the first news his family had received about him since they had first received word that he was a prisoner of war.
One day, Lester he felt a concussion. It was the concussion from the atomic bomb exploding over Nagasaki. He and the other men had no idea what they had just witnessed.
When the Japanese told the prisoners that they did not have to work, Lester knew that the war was over. One day, an American appeared at the gates of the camp. The reporter from the Chicago Tribune told the POWs that the war was over and Americans had landed on the island. Lester was officially liberated on September 13, 1945. At the time of his liberation, he weighed only sixty pounds. Lester was taken aboard an American hospital ship. When he saw the American flag, he started to cry.
Lester sent a telegram home to his parents. In it, he stated that he hoped that his brother, Melvin, was already home. Lester returned to the Philippines where he learned that his brother, Melvin, had died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru on October 24, 1944. After Lester was fattened up, he returned to the United States arriving in Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945. He next returned home to Janesville. On December 11, 1945, he married Barbara Kettle in Dubuque, Iowa. He was discharged from the army on June 6, 1946.
Lester R. Buggs worked for Great Lake Mills in Janesville and later moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and spent the rest of his life there. He passed away on April 27, 1983, and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin.