Pfc. Melvin Emil Buggs
Pfc. Melvin E. Buggs was the
son of Emil W. Buggs and Helen Ohi-Buggs and 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. His specific
job is not known.
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
Since HQ Company did not have the proper weapons
to fight planes, they could do little more than
watch the Japanese attack. Most took cover to protect
themselves during the attack and saw the damage
the Japanese had done during the attack.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April
3rd. On April 7th, 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.
of April 8,
his men the
news of the
surrender. While informing the members
of the company
waved his arm
tanks and told
the men that
they would no
he spoke, his
He turned away
from the men
for a moment,
and when he
turned back he
He next told
should do to
that they all
He told the
that could be
used by the
The only thing
they were told
not to destroy
The men waited
juice for what
he called, "Their last supper."
The POWs finally 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 guns began
to return fire. Shells began landing among
the POWs. Some POW's attempted to hide in
a shed in the field and died when it took a
direct hit from American guns. The
Americans did knock out three of the four
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no
idea that they had begun what became known as
the death march. During the march the heat
and lack of water became unbearable. 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. Medical records also show he
was readmitted on to the hospital on December
10th due to a relapse.
In October 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
to sail on the ship had arrived, the Japanese
POW detachments so the Hokusen Maru could
While the Arisan Maru was anchored off Palawan
it was attacked once by American planes. The
ship returned to the
Manila on October 20th, where it joined a
convoy. On October 21st, after
loading bananas and other foods, the
convoy left Manila and entered the South
China Sea. The Japanese also issued
life jackets to the POWs which could float
for about two hours. According to
survivors, all this did was reinforced
in the Americans the fear of being
killed by their own countrymen.
Of the nearly 1800 POWs who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila only nine survived the sinking. Only eight of these men survived the war.
Pfc. Melvin E. Buggs died on October 24, 1944, when the Arisan Maru was sunk in the South China Sea. Since he died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.