|Pfc. Lester Raymond Buggs
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 and left Janesville on November 28. At Fort Knox, Lester trained with his tank company which was now A Company, 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. HQ Company did not actively take part in the maneuvers but worked to keep the tanks and other vehicles of the battalion running.
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.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Lester, 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, California. There, they were transported, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. There, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment. Men with minor medical conditions were held back on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27 which arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a two day layover. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. Once in Hawaii, the soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island.
They sailed again on Wednesday, November 5, for Guam, but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S.S. Calvin Coolidge. On Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they woke up the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11, since the ships had crossed the International Date Line during the night. It was during this part of the voyage, on Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke, which turned out to be from a ship from a friendly country.
When the ships arrived at Guam, on Sunday, November 16, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water, but the soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they would soon be at war. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila later in the day, it was three or four hours before the soldiers disembarked, boarded buses, and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila. Those who were assigned to trucks drove their trucks to the base, while the maintenance section of the battalion remained at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who 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 live in tents, but the fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He remained with them and made sure they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them rusting while at sea. 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.
On Monday, December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half. At all times, two crew members had two remain with their tank or half-track and received their meals from food trucks. HQ Company made sure that the companies had what they needed.
The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered up to full strength at Clark Field. 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.
Since another attack was expected, vehicles were dispersed and camouflaged. The tanks remained around the perimeter of Clark Field to prevent a paratroop assault. The soldiers had no idea if an invasion would soon follow.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since their bivouac was near the main road, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night the soldiers attempted to sleep in a dried up latrine that was near their encampment since it was safer than their tents. Many of which had bullet holes in them. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. HQ Company worked to keep the tanks of the battalion supplied and running. Often this meant going to an area where the tanks were suppose to be and attempting to find them. They continued doing this until the surrender.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of they would surrender the next morning. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. George was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
HQ Company finally boarded trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit. As they sat, John and the other Prisoners of War noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in front of the soldiers. He got out and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles. In the school yard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed from incoming shells since they had no place to hide. The American guns did knock out three of the Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march they received no water and little food. At San Fernando, they were put in a bull pen, ordered to sit, and left sitting in the sun.
Lester's 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."
Later, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station where they were put into a small wooden boxcars known as "Forty and Eights" because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar so tightly that those men who died could not fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the living disembarked the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
As a prisoner, Lester was first held at Camp O'Donnell, where he worked in the camp hospital. The hospital was divided into wards, and Lester was assigned to work with the prisoners who had dysentery. The ward he was assigned to was known as "Zero Ward".
Later, Lester 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 5 and sent to Cabanatuan.
Cabanatuan had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as "Zero Ward," which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier. Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had. At some point he came down with malaria again 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 5, 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 10.
In Japan. Lester was held at Fukuoka #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.
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. 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.
One day, Lester said 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. Many thought that a major Japanese ammunition dump had been hit by American bombs.
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 who was a reporter from the Chicago Tribune and 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 and after being liberated he 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, on the U.S.S. Marine Shark. He returned home to Janesville, and on December 11, 1945, and 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.