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
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 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.
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.
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 to Ft. Mason in San Francisco,
California, where they were transported by the ferry, the
General Frank M. Coxe
, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. While on the island, the soldiers received physicals and were
inoculated for tropical diseases from the battalion's medical detachment. Men with minor medical
conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply
replaced. It was from this army base that the 192nd left the United States for the Philippine Islands.
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott
and sailed on Monday, October 27. 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
. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so t he
soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed 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
and, another transport, the
S. S. Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the
next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the
International Date Line. 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 shot off in the
direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16 , the ships took on water, bananas,
coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island
at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent
into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at
Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to
unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel 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 that he had not learned of their arrival until day before their
ship docked. He made sure the soldiers had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left them 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. 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. While at the perimeter of the airfield, Japanese planes
flew reconnaissance flights over the airfield.
The morning of December 8 at 6:00 A.M., the officers of the battalions were informed of
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. All morning long, the sky was filled with American
planes. At noon, all the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, planes
approached the airfield from the north. The tankers, who were having lunch, counted formations totaling to
54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.
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.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. 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.
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
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men
the news of the surrender. 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. Melvin 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.
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 Japanese guns.
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.
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.
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 boxcars so tightly that those men who
died could not fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the living disembarked those who had died fell
to the floors of the boxcars.
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
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.
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.
While Melvin was on the detail, a new camp was opened at Cabanatuan. The POWs who
were at Camp O'Donnell were sent to Camp One, while two miles away was Camp Two. The camp was quickly
closed because it did not have an adequate water supply. Later it was used for Naval POWs. Camp
Three was six miles from Camp Two and held the POWs captured on Corregidor, and the POWs who were hospitalized
when Bataan surrendered. It was later closed and the POWs were transferred to Camp One.
In Melvin's case, he was sent to Cabanatuan One which 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 those who died, died from the
diseases their bodies could not fight since they were malnourished.
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 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. The POWs remained on the detail into 1944 until the majority were sent to Cabanatuan in March
1944. The remaining POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison in September 1944.
In October 1944, Melvin and other prisoners were taken to the the dock area of
Manila. The POWs were scheduled to sail on the
, but since not all the POWs scheduled to sail on the ship had arrived, the Japanese POW detachments so
On October 10, his detachment was boarded onto the
where the 1775 POWs were packed into Hold #1 of the ship which was large enough to hold four hundred
men. 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. Anton Cichy said
, "For the first few days, there were 1,800 of us together in one hold. I don't know how big
the hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck together."
Calvin Graef said about the conditions in the hold
, "We were packed in so tight most men couldn't get near the cans. And, of course, it was a
physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and
dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with
lice, bedbugs and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description."
The Japanese had removed the lights in the hold but had not turned off the system's
power. Some of the POWs managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system.
This provided fresh air to the POWs for two days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they
turned off the power.
After this, the prisoners began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese soon realized
that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship. To relieve the situation in the hold,
they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's first hold which was partially filled with coal. During
the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape. During this time, the POWs, each
day, were allowed three ounces of water and two rations of rice.
Of this time, Graef said
, "As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was
maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under
these conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty five
gallon tins of fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked the cloth
dry. Men licked their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
While the Arisan Maru was anchored off Palawan it was attacked once by American planes
which were returning to their carrier from a raid on the airfield on Palawan. The ship returned to the
Manila on October 20, where it joined a convoy. On October 21, 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.
The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were
carrying POWs. In addition, U.S. Military Intelligence was reading the Japanese codes as fast as the
Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying
POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines.
Graef described the deaths of the POWs hold.
There were so many (that died) out 1800. The conditions in the hold.....men were just dying in a
continuous stream. Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died.
You were being starved, men wee dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like you were
choking to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard."
Cichy said ,
"The Japs told us that they'd be in Formosa the next day to pick up some cargo. They had to
make room on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one but
didn't think anything about it."
It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24, and some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the
POWs in the ship's holds and had fed about half the POWs. The waves were high since the ship had been
through a storm in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded warning of
submarines. The POWs in the holds chanted for the submarine to sink the ship.
At about 4:50 P.M., about half the POWs had been fed. As the POWs, on deck, watched,
the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a torpedo passed in front of it. Moments later, the
Japanese ran to the ship's stern and watched as a second torpedo passed behind the ship. There was a
sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the water. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, in its
third hold where there were no POWs.
At first the POWs cheered wildly until they realized they were facing death. Cichy
, "When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!' We wanted to get it
Lt. Robert S. Overbeck recalled
, "When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and weak
He also said
"The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn't break in
Overbeck also commented on the reaction of the POWs in the holds.
"For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed
fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips--300 of them on deck--were scurrying about, scared as
hell. The boilers exploded. I don't think any of us got hurt in the torpedoing or the
explosion. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The Japs took the two lifeboats
aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. That was about 5:00 P.M."
It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was either the
The guards took their rifles and used them as clubs to drive the POWs on deck into the
holds. Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over
the holds, but they did not tie the hatch covers down. Cichy recalled
, "The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have forgot about the
prisoners on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches and
told us to come up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of guys down below. One of them
escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S. Overback,
"The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving
Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped
them to the men in the holds. The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. On the
ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said
, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one
thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the script."
Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them
, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."
We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so
thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the destroyers,
had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down the hold the
"But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no
resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not tell
who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been carrying Jap
troops. The men were brave and none complained.
"Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry 'so long'
The ship slowly sank lower into the water.
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the
water. At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but the
halves remained afloat. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was
sinking. Some POWs attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers, rafts, and other
flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them away with poles.
Of this Glenn Oliver said
, "They weren't picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were swimming for the destroyer,
but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water."
Oliver recalled ,
"I could see people still on the ship when it went down. I could see people against the skyline,
just standing there.
" In the water he watched as the ship went under.
"I kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I
didn't ask them."
Three POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to climb in but found it had no
oars. With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the survivors,
Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. Oliver - who was not in the
boat - stated he heard men using what he called "GI whistles" to contact each other.
They were blowing these GI whistles in the night. This weird moaning sound. I can't
The next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other men were picked up by a Japanese
destroyer and taken to Formosa and finally sent to Japan. The next day the three men in the boat picked up
two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom.
In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1775 men who boarded the
in Manila survived the sinking. Only eight of the POWs would survive the war. Pfc. Melvin E. Buggs
was not one of them.
His family received this message
"The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11,
1944, with 1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the
south China Sea over 200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners
escaped in a small boat and reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the
Japanese by whom all others aboard are reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened
to the other individual prisoners and known circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all
other prisoners listed by the Japanese as aboard the vessel perished."
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.