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, Wisconsin. 

    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.
    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.
Melvin 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 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 General 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.

    After stops in Hawaii and Guam, the 192nd arrived in Manila.  Lester and the other soldiers were rushed to Fort Stotsenburg.  There they lived in tents along the main road of the camp and Clark Airfield.

    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 the prison.
    In January, 1943, Melvin went out on a work detail to Lipa Batangas.  The POWs worked at Lipa Airfield building runways and revetments.  Every other day, the POWs worked on a local farm.

    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.



Return to A Company