Buggs_Melvin

 

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, 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.  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 U.S.A.T. 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 27th.  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 the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, 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 U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, 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 15th, 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 16th, 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 20th, 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 1st, 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.   
    The morning of December 8th at 6:00 A.M., the officers of the battalions were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  All the members of the 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. 
    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 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.
    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 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 11th, 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 and walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.

    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 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 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 sail. 
    On October 10th, his detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru where the nearly 1800 POWs were packed into Hold #2 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. 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.

    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.   
    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 messages 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.

    The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines. 
At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner.  About half the POWs on the ship had been fed.  When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship.  The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship.
    The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the #2 hold.  Once they were in the hold they cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover. 
    Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark amidship killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly.  A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death. 
The Japanese abandoned ship leaving the POWs to die.   
    POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds.  The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck.  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."
    According to surviving POWs, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but remain afloat.  It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs.   Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal.  These men wanted to die with full stomachs.
    Three men managed to get into a lifeboat that had been abandoned by the Japanese.  But since the sea was rough and they had no paddles, they could not maneuver the boat.  According to the men as the night went on, the cries for help became fewer until there was silence.  The next morning, they rescued two more POWs.

    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.


 

 

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