Sgt. Vernon Harold Bussell
| Sgt. Vernon H.
Bussell was born on July 1, 1921, in Harlan
County, Kentucky, to James D. Bussell & Clara
Mae Peace-Bussell. He was one of the
couple's three sons. His family lived
outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where he worked
on the family farm. He enlisted in the
Kentucky National Guard's 38th Tank Company which
was headquartered in Harrodsburg..
On November 25, 1940, Vernon's tank company was called to federal service and designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He trained for nearly a year at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In early 1941, Vernon was transferred Headquarters Company when it was formed with men from the four letter companies. During his time at Ft. Knox, he attended radio school and qualified as a radioman.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers at Camp Polk that Vernon and the other members of the 192nd learned they were being sent overseas.
The reason for this move was an
event that took place in the
summer of 1941. A squadron
of American fighters was flying
over Lingayen Gulf when one of
the pilots noticed something
odd. He took his plane
down and identified a buoy, with
a flag, in the water. He
came upon more flagged buoys
that lined up - in a straight
line - for 30 miles to the
northwest, in the direction of
an Japanese occupied island,
with a large radio transmitter,
hundred of miles away. The
squadron continued its flight
plane and flew south to
Mariveles and then returned to
Clark Field. When the
planes landed, it was too late
to do anything that day, so the
next day - when a when planes
were sent to the area - the
buoys had been picked up and a
fishing boat was seen making its
way toward shore. Since
communication between the planes
and Navy was poor, nothing was
done to intercept the
boat. It was at that time
the decision was made to build
up the American military
presence in the Philippines.
It is not known exactly when, but what is known is that Vernon was reassigned to the Headquarters Company of the Provisional Tank Group. This detachment consisted of ten enlisted men. It is known that they had two half-tracks. After two weeks of readying for maneuvers, the tank group received the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was around 12:45 in the afternoon that Vernon and the other soldiers were having lunch when they saw planes approaching Clark Airfield. It was only when bombs began exploding that the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
During the attack Vernon could do little but hide. After the attack he saw the devastation done by the Japanese. The wounded and dead were everywhere.
For the next four months, Vernon performed his
duties for the tank group. On April 10th, the Japanese
arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the
road. When the POWs were ordered to move,
they found walking on the gravel trail
difficult. When the trial ended, the POWs
and the POWs were on the main road, the first thing the Japanese did
was separate the officers from the enlisted men.
Camp O'Donnell was a death trap with as many as 50 POWs dying each day. It is very likely that Vernon went out on a work detail to get out of the camp, but at this time it is not known which detail he was a member of. It is known that Vernon was held at Cabanatuan which was opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.
After arriving in the camp, Vernon got out of the camp by going out on the scrap metal detail that was sent back into Bataan. The POWs would tie together vehicles that were inoperable, and drive them behind a operating vehicle, When the detail ended, he was sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In the late fall of 1942 or early 1943, Vernon
was selected for the Bachrach Garage Detail in
Manila. The POWs were held at a garage
which had been owned by a Manila cab
company. On the detail, the POWs repaired
trucks and other vehicles used by the
Japanese. It was at this time, on December
1, 1943, that his family officially received
word he was a POW. It should be mentioned
that this detail had multiple names.
On October 11, 1944, the Bachrach Garage Detail was disbanded and the POWs were marched to Pier 7. Vernon's company of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru. The ship was ready to sail, but not all the POWs had arrived. The Japanese switched Vernon' POW company with another company of POWs so that ship could sail. Once his entire company of POWs had arrived, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. With him, on the ship, were the other members of the 192nd who had worked with in Manila. The ship set sail and took a southerly route away from Formosa. It arrived at a cove off Palawan Island where it dropped anchor. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes.
During the time in the cove, the situation for the POWs in the hold became desperate. The POWs discovered that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the hold, but that they had not turned off the power to the light system. Some of POWs managed to "hot wire" the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system. For two days, the POWs had fresh air until the Japanese discovered what they had done and turned off the power to the hold.
The death rate among the POWs began to rise and the Japanese realized that if they did not do anything, they would have a "death ship" on their hands. To improve the situation, they transferred POWs from the first hold to the second hold. During the transfer, one POW attempted to escape and was killed.
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th. There, it became part of a twelve ship convoy for Formosa. 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 the Americans fear of being killed by their own countrymen. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with "red crosses" indicating they were carrying POWs. This made the ships targets for submarines. In addition, AMerican Military Intelligence was reading Japanese communications as fast as the Japanese were reading it. They knew that POWs were on ships in the convoy, but did tell tell the submarines. This was done to protect the fact they had broken the Japanese code.
According to the survivors of
the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24,
1944, around 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck
preparing the meal for those in the ship's two
holds. The ship was, off the coast of
China, in the Bashi Channel. As the POWs
watched the Japanese guards ran to the bow of
the ship and watched as a torpedo, from an
American submarine, barely miss the ship.
The Japanese next ran to the stern of the ship
and watched a second torpedo pass behind the
There was a sudden jar which was caused by the
ship being hit by two torpedoes amidships
killing many POWs. Those still alive
cheered wildly. The ship shook and stopped dead
in the water. It is believed that the
submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S.
Snook. It was at that time that the
Japanese abandoned the ship.
Some of the POWs in the
first hold were able to climb out and attached
and lowered the rope ladders to those in the
first hold. They also dropped rope ladders
down to the POWs in second hold. The POWs
made their way onto the deck.
According to the three POWs who had reached an abandoned lifeboat, the Arisan Maru sank slowly into the water. It was at this time that those POWs still on deck attempted to escape. Since they had no oars for the lifeboat, they could not maneuver the boat.
At some point, the ship broke in two where it had been struck by the torpedoes. The exact time of the ship's sinking was not known since it occurred at night. The survivors told how the cries for help slowly ceased until there was silence. The next morning the men in the boat rescued two more POWs.
Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of the men survived the war. Since he was lost at sea, Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.