Pfc. Melvin Emil Buggs
Pfc. Melvin E. Buggs was the
son of Emil W. Buggs and Helen Ohi-Buggs. He
was born on September 11, 1919. Along with
his brothers Harold and Lester, he was raised at
618 South Academy Street in Janesville,
In April, 1940, Melvin and his brother, Lester, joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company housed in an armory in Janesville. Their cousin, Wayne, was also a member of the tank company. Six months later, Melvin and the other members of the company were called to federal service as members of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
At Fort Knox, Kentucky, the battalion members
learned how to run the equipment used by the
battalion. In January, 1941, Melvin was
transferred to Headquarters Company when the
company was formed from the four letter
companies of the battalion.
While at Ft. Stotsenburg, Melvin lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Since HQ Company did not have the proper weapons to fight planes, they could do little more than watch the Japanese attack. Melvin and the other tankers watched as planes approached the airfield. When bombs began exploding, he and the other men knew that the planes were Japanese.
For four months Melvin fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. On April 9, 1942, Melvin and the other soldiers became Prisoners Of War. HQ Company remained in their bivouac for two days before they came into contact with the Japanese.
A Japanese officer ordered the Americans out on the road that ran near their camp. Once there, the POWs were ordered to kneel along both sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. While they were kneeling, Japanese soldiers marching passed them went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the prisoners.
The POWs boarded HQ Company's trucks and drove to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Once there, they were ordered out of the trucks and into a school yard. They remained there until they were ordered to move. When they reached a second clearing, they were told to sit. Behind them were Japanese artillery.
The Japanese began to fire on the American guns on Corregidor and Fort Drum. It was a matter of minutes before the American gins began to return fire. Shells began landing among the POWs. Some POW's attempted to hide in a shed in the field. They died when it took a direct hit from American guns.
Melvin took part in the death march. During the march the heat and lack of water became unbearable for him. Even though he knew that he could be killed for trying to get water from one of the artesian wells , Melvin attempted to get water. While he was attempting to do this, a Japanese guard came up to him and bayoneted him. The guard did not try to kill him. He stuck the bayonet in far enough to make it painful for Melvin to continue the march.
Melvin was held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell. To get out of the camp, he went out on the bridge building detail under the command of Col. Ted Wickord of the 192nd. With him on the detail was his brother and cousin, Wayne. When the detail ended, he was sent to Cabanatuan which had opened to lower the death rate among the POWs.
What is known about his time at Cabanatuan is
that he was hospitalized on August 9, 1942,
suffering from an unknown illness. No date
of discharge was given in the report.
After he was discharged, Melvin was sent out to
a work detail at San Fernando. The POWs on
the detail collected scrap metal. Medical
records from Bilibid Prison show that he was
admitted, with malaria, on October 10, 1942, and
discharged on December 8th to Building #18 at
On June 6, 1944, many POWs from this detail were transported on the Yashu Maru to Cebu. There, they were transferred to the Singoto Maru and returned to Manila. He may have been returned to Cabanatuan or sent directly to Bilibid Prison. The prison was the processing center for POWs being sent to Japan or another occupied country.
On October 10, 1944, Melvin and other prisoners were taken to the the dock area of Manila. The POWs were scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since not all the POWs scheduled for the Hokusen Maru had arrived, the Japanese switched ships so the Hokusen Maru could sail. The POWs were packed into Hold #2 of the Arisan Maru. The hold was large enough to hold four hundred men. The Japanese packed all 1803 POWs into it.
The ship sailed, but instead of heading to Formosa it headed south. Off the Island of Palawan, the ship dropped anchor in a cove. Within the first 48 hours, five men had died. Some of the POWs managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system. This provided fresh air to the POWs. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.
The Japanese soon realized that unless they did something the number of deaths would continue to rise. They then moved 800 POWs to the ship's first hold which was halfway filled with coal.
While in the cove, the POWs were allowed on deck at certain times. One POW attempted to escape and was shot. After nine days the ship returned to Manila. While the Arisan Maru was anchored off Palawan it was attacked once by American planes. When it returned to Manila, on October 20th, the port showed signs of having been bombed by American planes.
On October 21, 1944, the ship sailed a second time. It joined a twelve ship convoy bound for Formosa. The next day, Tuesday, October 24, 1944, around 4:30 p. m., the convoy was attacked by American submarines while in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Some POWs were on deck cooking dinner for the other POWs and witnessed the event. During the attack a torpedoed passed wide of the ship's bow. A second torpedo passed to the ship's stern. The next two more torpedoes hit the ship amidships. The ship shook and came to a stop.
When the ship was hit, the guards began firing on the POWs on deck in an attempt to force them into the holds. After they were in the holds, the guards cut the rope ladders and cover the hatches. They did not tie the hatch covers down. The Japanese then abandoned ship.
Since the hatch covers had not been tied down, some of the POWs in the second hold managed to make their way on deck. They reattached the rope ladders and dropped them to the other POWs.
The POWs climbed out of the holds and onto the deck. A group of about 35 POWs swam to a nearby Japanese destroyer which was picking up Japanese survivors. When the Americans reached the ship, they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs.
Five of the POWs found a boat that had been abandoned by the Japanese. It had no oars or sail which meant that they could not maneuver it. These men reported that as time passed the Arisan Maru sank lower and lower into the water. At some point, the ship broke in two.
Those POWs who could swim attempted to save themselves by finding anything that would float. Those who could not swim, raided the ship's food locker and ate their last meal. They wanted to die with a full stomach. The exact time that the Arisan Maru sank is not known since it happened after dark. The POWs in the boat stated that as the night went on the cries for help became fewer and fewer. Then, there was silence.
Of the 1803 POWs who boarded the ship in Manila only nine survived the sinking. Only eight of these men survived the war.
Pfc. Melvin E. Buggs died on October 24, 1944. Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.