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Bussell, Sgt. Vernon H.

Last updated on January 23, 2024

Sgt. Vernon Harold Bussell was born on July 1, 1921, in Harlan County, Kentucky, to James D. Bussell and Clara Mae Peace-Bussell. He was one of the couple’s three sons and lived outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. and attended high school for three years before leaving to work on the family farm. He enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard’s 38th Tank Company which was headquartered above a store at the corner of Poplar and Main Streets in Harrodsburg.

After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard General Headquarters tank battalions. The GHQ tank battalions which were still considered infantry were notified they were being called up, on September 1, 1940, to create a “buffer” between the armored forces and infantry. This was done to protect the regular army tank battalions from requests from the infantry for tanks and allow them to develop into real fighting forces. If the infantry wanted tanks, the National Guard tank battalions were available to the infantry.

On November 25, 1940, the tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. At 7:00 A.M. the company came together and was sworn into the Regular Army. In Vernon’s case, he was sworn in as a Private. By noon, any man who had failed his physical had been released. The company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28th and its tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving about four hours later at 4:30 P.M. and was the first company to arrive at the base. It was quickly joined by the advance detachment from A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin.

Their first impression of the base was that it was a mud hole because it had rained continuously for days, and it continued to rain after they arrived. Someone at the base told them that at the fort, “You either wade to your ankles in dust or mud to your knees.” When the entire battalion arrived at the base, it had a total of eight tanks.

It was at this time that the 192nd Tank Battalion was activated. Capt. Bacon Moore – because of his seniority – became the battalion’s commanding officer. With the command came a promotion to the rank of Major. Lt. Arch Rue took command of D Company. Capt. Ted Wickord, B Co., became the battalion’s executive officer, and Lt. Fred Bruni, A Co., became the battalion’s maintenance officer. One of the four letter companies was scheduled to become the battalion’s Headquarters Company but none of the companies wanted to give up their tanks. The decision was made to create a separate HQ Company creating a battalion with five companies.

Their first housing was small unpainted temporary barracks since their barracks were not finished. Each man had a steel cot to sleep on. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 25 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had private rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom. Twenty-five men lived on each floor of the barracks. When men were assigned to the company from selective service, they lived in tents next to the company’s two barracks. The tents were on concrete slabs and had screened wooden walls and doors with canvas roofs. Each tent had a stove in the center for heat and electricity for lighting. The officers had their barracks with private rooms for each officer. In addition, each officer had an orderly to clean his room.

The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the captain’s office. Since by flipping a switch, the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned. Since the area was new, one of the first things they did was take wheelbarrows and shovels and bring gravel to the barracks to create walkways for the barracks.

A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company for specialist training. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms for retreat at 5:00 p.m. followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall.  After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. 

On December 2nd the men attended the tank schools that they had been assigned. The men assigned to tank maintenance were the first to start classes since part of their job was to get the 16 tanks the battalion got from the base’s junkyard running. Each company received four of the tanks. It was noted that the companies were scheduled to have three half-tracks, four motorcycles, 17 tanks, 2 motorcycles, 4 two and a half ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck.

For entertainment, they could go to the post library, attend escorted dances every two weeks, go skating on weekends, go to the movies nightly, or go bowling. Men also played on the company’s basketball and later on its baseball team. They also had a bowling league where the battalion’s companies played each other and companies from other units. On weekends the soldiers went to Louisville 35 miles to the north of the base or Elizabethtown 16 miles to the south of the base.

It also seemed to rain constantly during December, and it was said the mud around the barracks was two inches deep. On December 2nd, each company received four additional tanks that came out of the fort’s junkyard. Men who were selected to attend special training started their classes on December 9th. The remaining men took a six-mile hike in the mud and rain on the 13th. 

For Christmas, members of the company received furloughs home from the 14th to the 26th while other men remained at Ft. Knox. Those men who remained on base were attending schools that were still meeting, had duties that required them to remain on base, or may have been among the members of the battalion hospitalized with what appears to have been the flu. It is not known if he went home or stayed on base.

The base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.

Since none of the letter companies wanted to give up their tanks, the War Department allowed the battalion to form an HQ Company and keep its four tank companies. 1st Sgt. Arch Rue was given the job of picking men to be transferred to the soon-to-be-formed HQ Company. Vernon was one of the men selected for the company. Men were picked for the company because they had special training and received promotions because of their ratings received higher pay. The men assigned to the HQ company still lived with their original companies.

The men assigned to the HQ Company moved into their three barracks by February. The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks. One hundred and forty-nine men from the Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10th and lived in tents located next to the barracks of each company. The tents were on concrete slabs and had electricity. The walls were wood and screened with canvas starting about halfway up the wall. In the center was a stove for heat.

Winter finally arrived on January 4th, when the high for the day was 24 degrees, and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was on January 7th that the companies had their first target practice, and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty-caliber and fifty-caliber machine guns as well as forty-five-caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired simultaneously. All those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and combat. Ten members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their complement of clothing.

The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks. One hundred and forty-nine men from the Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10th. All the men came from the home states of each company to keep them “National Guard.” The men from Selective Service lived in tents located next to the barracks of each company. The tents were on concrete slabs and had wooden walls that were screened with canvas starting about halfway up the wall. Each tent had a door. In the center of each tent was a stove for heat and each tent had electricity to light it. C Company received 52 men from Ohio. Two men who were formerly members of C Company and had been drafted into the army were assigned to the company. New men joined the company at various times as men’s enlistments in the National Guard ended and men were sent home.

The draftees were trained by 5 officers from the battalion and 18 enlisted men under the direction of the 69th Armored Force (medium). 1st Armor Division, for administration and supply. The 192nd’s tank crews and reconnaissance units trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units; later they trained with their own companies. Each company was made up of three platoons of thirty men and each company was supposed to have 17 tanks assigned to it. The one exception was Headquarters Company which was supposed to receive three tanks. 

Each company now had a maintenance tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews. Flu became an issue at this time and as many as 15 battalion members were in the hospital with it at any time.

The entire battalion on January 28th, took part in a one-day “problem” that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and to put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 a.m. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. The problems – frequently occurring – could last from one hour to twenty-four hours. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews. It was also at this time that each company had a maintenance tent set up so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their tanks. They also took the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews.

Many of the men were now in specialized schools. Those who had first class were up at 4:30 a.m. so they could have breakfast and be in class by 6 a.m. Thirty-four members of the company attended school. Men attended radio school, motorcycle school, auto mechanics school, tank mechanics school, and company clerk school. Other men were attending other classes like electrician school. The barracks were described as having open books everywhere with men busy writing in notebooks brushing up on their chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Those not in school had fieldwork to do. They were up at 5 a.m. and after they serviced their tanks they had a problem for the rest of the day and were fed hot meals from the company’s rolling kitchen when it arrived with lunch.

The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. Lack of equipment was a major problem. Each company received four additional tanks in December. Still, according to information from the time, each company was scheduled to receive 17 tanks, three half-tracks, four motorcycles, two motorcycles with passenger cars, four two-and-a-half-ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck. The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units. They would later train with their own companies.

The commanding officer of the company changed several times. In February – on different dates – four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox on problematic moves at 9:00 a.m. One of these detachments was commanded by the company’s commanding officer. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so the men could become acquainted with their equipment by setting it up and taking it down. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible and the detachments had to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.

On March 20, 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. Each company had two barracks except for HQ Company which had three. The barracks were painted white, had bathing and washing facilities in them, and a day room and kitchen. The barracks kitchens had a stove and two large iceboxes. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from the Selective Service permanently joining the battalion. It was on March 21st that men from Selective Service – all from Kentucky – joined the company after completing their basic training which had lasted six weeks. As men were released from service when their National Guard enlistments ended, new men from Kentucky replaced them.

Each letter company was made up of three platoons of thirty men and each company had six tanks assigned to it. Four of each company’s tanks had been pulled out of the junkyard. The one exception was Headquarters Company which had three assigned tanks. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month. The company also received additional tanks, trucks, light trucks, and what they called “peeps.” These would later be known as jeeps.

At the beginning of June, a detachment of men went to Detroit, Michigan, to pick up 39 trucks for the battalion. The exact date they left is not known, but they spent the night at Patterson Field, Ohio, from there they went north through Springfield, Urbana, Bellefontaine, and Bowling Green, Ohio, before entering Michigan. It took the tankers two days to get to Detroit. While they were there, a large number of them crossed the Detroit River, visited Windsor, Canada, and mailed postcards home. It is known they were back at Ft. Knox before June 6th.

On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½-ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½-ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.

The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers. 

At the end of the month, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 a.m. until 8:30 a,m. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 a.m. One of the complaints they had was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from the range, their clothes were so wet that they felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4th, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, in July to be rebuilt and returned to the battalion before it went on maneuvers. The battalion finally received all its tanks and the soldiers were told to, “beat the hell out of them.”

On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. From a letter written by a member of the 192nd in August 1941, it appears that the battalion was selected to go overseas, but the decision was canceled and the 194th received its orders. Major Ernest Miller, CO, 194th, on August 14th, received his battalion’s orders to go overseas on August 14th. The next day, August 15th, the rest of the 194th received its orders to go overseas. A detachment of men received the job of requisitioning tanks from other tank units at Ft. Knox. In some cases, the tanks had just arrived at the fort and were still on railroad cars when the detachment, under 2nd Lt. William Gentry, walked up to the soldiers who were about to unload them and handed the officer in charge the War Department orders that the detachment was taking the tanks from them. About this time, the 192nd heard that the battalion’s orders to the Philippines had been canceled and that the 194th Tank Battalion stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington, was being sent to the Philippines. Many of the soldiers had attended classes with members of the 194th, but they still expressed relief that they were not being sent overseas. The tanks the detachment requisitioned were sent to San Francisco, California.

The battalion was also involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie. The members of the company also learned they were being sent to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, to take part in maneuvers.

Two members of each letter company and HQ Company remained behind at Ft. Knox to watch over the possessions of the members of their respective companies. Who these men were is not known. In addition, men who had not completed the schools they were attending remained on base. The final men from the Selective Service also permanently joined the battalion just before it left the base. Before the battalion left for the maneuvers, rumors were already flying that it would not be returning to Ft. Knox. One rumor printed in the companies’ hometown newspapers said the battalion was going to be sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, after taking part in the three-month maneuvers.

About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee with the battalion’s reconnaissance men on their motorcycles serving as traffic directors. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. During the trip, the convoy was involved in several accidents that appeared to involve the battalion’s motorcycles but no details are known. 

The other half of the battalion left Ft. Knox for the maneuvers by train on September 4th. It is known that the tanks had been loaded onto train cars and that the train had a kitchen for them to have meals. The time of departure for the train was 6:30 PM. and the arrival time in Tremont, Louisiana, was scheduled for around midnight the night of September 5th, but the train did not arrive until 3:00 AM on the 6th. When they arrived at Tremont, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station. The tanks were unloaded in the dark while the men were eaten alive by mosquitos. That night they were allowed to go to Monroe, Louisiana, and it was said there were more soldiers in the town than civilians.

When they arrived, the battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest. What made the bivouac worse was that the rainy season started and the men found themselves living in it. On one occasion the battalion was bivouac near a canal and the next morning the men found themselves in water over their shoes trying to dig ditches for drainage. The members of B Company captured a medium-sized alligator in their bivouac and pulled it around at the end of a leash made from a rope. Two days later the battalion made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army and fought with the 191st Tank Battalion as the First Tank Group. 

The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to start a fire. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili  – which they called Iron Rations – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Drinking water was scarce; men went days without shaving, and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance since fresh water was at a premium. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks. Men also had stumble from beards since shaving was difficult because of the lack of water. Men also shaved their heads because of the heat. Many men wonder who thought it was a good idea to purchase Louisiana from the French.

The tankers stated that they had never seen so many mosquitoes, ticks, and snakes before. Water moccasins were the most common snake, but there were also rattlesnakes. Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them.

To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two-and-a-half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long –  that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only strike if the man forced himself on the snake. It is known one member of A Company, John Spencer, was bitten by a snake but had no serious effects.

They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away. 

During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”  The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot. 

While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out for a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. It was said that the clay at Ft. Knox was not as bad as the sandy soil in Louisiana. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.

It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning –  after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment.  They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders, and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.

The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night which at Ft. Knox was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. Several motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.

Water was rationed, so the soldiers washed in streams after making sure there were no alligators or snakes nearby. If they took a bath, they did it in cold water. Men went days without washing their faces. The popular conversation during the maneuvers was where the battalion being was being sent next. Rumors flew that after the maneuvers they were going to Ft. Ord, California, Ft. Lewis, Washington, Ft. Benning, Georgia, or Ft. Mead, Maryland. 

After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox, or another base, instead, the battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where they found themselves living in ten-man tents. While they were there, it seemed to rain nearly every day. Some men stated that they always seemed to be wet, so they did not shower for two weeks. On October 3rd, Major Bacon Moore, CO., 192nd, received the orders to send the battalion overseas. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned it was going overseas. Phil Parish, A Co., stated that Moore said, “‘You will all be going overseas somewhere and can be expected to be gone from a year, maybe two years, and maybe five or six years.’ We knew then that he knew a whole lot that he wasn’t telling.” The rumor was that they would go to the Philippines and train the Filipino Army on tanks. When they were finished in the Philippines, they would be sent to China to do the same with Chinese troops and new tanks that would be waiting there.

Those men who were married with dependents, who had other dependents, who were 29 years old or older, or whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn out of a hat. Other men came from the 3rd Armor Division, also at Camp Polk, or the 32nd Armor Regiment at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. Flyers were posted around Camp Polk stating volunteers were needed to join the 192nd which was being sent to the Philippines.

One of the battalion’s officers who could not go overseas – because he was too old for his rank – was Maj. Moore. Moore was ordered to Ft. Knox where he was placed in charge of the Armored Force Replacement Training Center. The battalion command was offered to Capt. Walter Write, A Co., since he had the most seniority but he declined the command to stay with the company. Capt. Theodore Wickord became the battalion’s command officer and was promoted to major. Officers from other units who replaced officers released from duty joined the battalion at this time.

Many of the members of the battalion were given 7-day furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends while others remained on base. It is not known if Vernon had a furlough home or if his duties required him to remain at Camp Polk.

The battalion was scheduled to receive brand-new M3A1 tanks, but there was a delivery problem, and this did not happen. Instead, they were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. While some tanks had five miles on them, many of these “new” M3 tanks were only new to the 192nd and were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance. It was also stated that the battalion had to fight other battalions to get the 54 tanks they were assigned. The selection of the tank was criticized since the M3s were known for throwing their tracks. The battalion also received half-tracks to replace its scout cars, but it is believed the half-tracks were waiting for the battalion in the Philippines.

There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American planes 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 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 Formosa which 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, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

Many of the original members of the 192nd believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. The 192nd and the 191st Tank Battalion took part in the maneuvers as the First Tank Group and Patton praised the battalions for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that he selected them for duty in the Philippines.

The fact was that the 192nd was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, as mentioned, it even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. The 192nd and 194th had already arrived in the Philippines and the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When the 193rd arrived in Hawaii it was held there. It is also known that one of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st, had received standby orders to move to San Francisco for transport to the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.

HQ Company left for the West Coast a few days earlier than the rest of the 192nd to make preparations for the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over at least three train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar, with equipment and spare parts, followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. HQ Company and A Company took the southern route, B and C Companies went west through the middle of the country on different train routes, and D Company went north then west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they spent five days. As the ferry passed Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” 

On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men – who appeared to have come from the 757th Tank Battalion at Ft. Ord, California – sent to the island for that purpose. The soldiers spent their time making preparations since they were not allowed off the island for security reasons. Some soldiers believed that the “quarantine” was done to prevent soldiers from going AWOL (Absent Without Leave). It was said that at night the San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge were beautiful. It was at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver joined the 192nd as its commanding officer.

When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home 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 blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.

The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. Some men stated they rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg while other men stated they rode busses to the base.

The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,”  meant they worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.

During this time, the battalion members spent much of their time getting the cosmoline out of the barrels of the tanks’ guns. Since they only had one reamer to clean the tank barrels, many of the main guns were cleaned with a burlap rag attached to a pole and soaked in aviation fuel. It was stated that they probably only got one reamer because Army ordnance didn’t believe they would ever use their main guns in combat. The tank crews never fired their tanks’ main guns until after the war had started, and not one man knew how to adjust the sights on the tanks. The battalion also lost four of its peeps, later called jeeps, used for reconnaissance to the command of the United States Armed Forces Far East also known as USAFFE. 

Before they went into the nearest barrio which was two or three miles away, all the newly arrived troops were assembled for a lecture by the post’s senior chaplain. It was said that he put the fear of God and gonorrhea into them.

It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.

At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX. 

For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Passes were given out and men were allowed to go to Manila in small groups. 

When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27th, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas, and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield and the bombs were haphazardly placed. On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.

It is not known when, but Vernon wrote a letter home. In it, he said:

Dear Mom and All:

How is everything at home? I weighed around 165 pounds and never felt better. Tell Grandpa that I’m really going to put his back down on the grass when I get back.           From your loving son,
                                                              Vernon
P.S. — All radio men that do any operating must have a personal sign. Mine is “CJ.”  Get it? They are the first letters of yours and Daddy’s name.

It is known that Vernon was assigned to the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters. It is believed that he and the other men assigned to the detachment were clerks or drivers. The men assigned to the tank group heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor from their commander, Capt Edwin Rue. It is not known what they did after this. The members of tank crews who were not with their tanks were sent to them and the half-tracks of both tank battalions took positions next to the tanks.

After the attack 194th was sent to a bivouac three kilometers north of Clark Field at Mabalacat. They spent their time loading ammunition belts because they had fired so much during the attack on Clark Field. The tankers were issued Infield and Springfield rifles. Since the rifles were from World War I, one out of every two worked. The tankers cannibalized two of the same type of rifles to get one working rifle.

On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting the 40-mile move, without lights, at night was a nightmare and one tank overturned when it went off the road. They finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th and spent the rest of the day and the next night there. The tanks were in an area of few trees surrounded by rice paddies, meaning the furthest they could go off the road was a few feet. Because of this, the battalion was scattered in three locations. Japanese planes flew over but did not bomb or strafe them.

The tankers bivouacked near the barrio of Muntinlupa. There they had the job of attempting to defend against any invading troops. The battalion’s six reconnaissance half-tracks and 40 men were supposed to defend against any landings at Batangas Bay, Tayabas Bay, and Balayan Bay. The battalion remained there from Dec. 14th to Dec. 24th. During this time the tankers spent much of their time on reconnaissance patrols hunting down Fifth Columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day near ammunition dumps. An order had been issued that no lights could be used at night. On one occasion, they saw someone signaling with a flashlight from a building. The tanks opened fire on the building. When they entered the building, there was no one in it, but they also had no more problems with fifth columnists.

The tanks spent the night at Tagatay Ridge. The tankers slept on the ground in sleeping bags. During the night they were awakened when the gasoline truck sent to fuel the tanks exploded and lit the area like it was day. Someone had placed gasoline cans on the batteries and one battery sparked and the can exploded. The next day they continued their trip south and had to cross bridges with ten-ton limits. The tanks were fourteen tons but the bridges held. It was also stated the battalion was sent to Batangas in southern Luzon. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were manned by grounded Air Corps men and used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of tanks.  

The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.

C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. That night, they heard bombers fly at 3:00 a.m. on their way to bomb Nichols Field. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.

B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau on December 12th so it could protect a highway bridge and railroad bridge against sabotage. At about 8:30 a.m. the elements of the battalion still at Clark Field lived through another attack. Since it was overcast, the bombers came in low and dropped their bombs which in many cases did not explode. 2nd Lt Albert Bartz, A Co., had been wounded in his shoulder and had a broken clavicle. That night the 194th was sent to Calumpit Bridge.

Around December 15th, after the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters was moved to Manila, Major Maynard Snell, a 192nd staff officer, stopped at Ft. Stotsenburg where anything that could be used by the Japanese was being destroyed. He stopped the destruction long enough to get five-gallon cans loaded with high-octane gasoline and small arms ammunition put onto trucks to be used by the tanks and infantry. PTG remained in Manila until December 23rd when it moved with the 194th north out of Manila.

A platoon of B Company tanks engaged Japanese tanks at Lingayen Gulf on December 22nd. 2nd Lt. Ben Morin and his tank crew became Prisoners of War. One member of the platoon, PFC Henry Deckert was killed when the concussion from a shell that hit near the bow gun port entered his tank and decapitated him. The other tanks were damaged by enemy fire and withdrew. The tanks were repaired and put back into service. From this time on, the tanks served as a rear guard holding roads open until all the other troops withdrew before falling back to another predetermined position to repeat the action.

On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road in a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16th. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry.

Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self-Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks. 

The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.

It was in the jungle that the tankers found out how inappropriate the M3 tanks were for use in the Philippines. Off the road, they had to travel with their turrets backward. If the tankers did not do this, the guns would get stuck in the jungle growth. The tanks were also restricted to the roads since they would get stuck in the mud of the rice fields. The high silhouettes and straight sides of the M3 also made the tanks easy targets for the Japanese.

Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.

The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later in the day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio. The tanks held their position for six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn which prevented the Japanese from overrunning the defenders. On the morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it but tanks were still straggling in at noon.

The tank companies also were given the job of protecting the artillery. The guns were mobile and hooked onto the tanks with a special carriage which allowed them to be moved. According to the tankers, it took a lot of preparation to set them up and a lot of preparation to take them down. The tankers didn’t like doing this job because minutes after the guns began firing, the Japanese sent up reconnaissance planes to find the guns. When they did, Zeros would appear and strafe the area. The gun crews quickly learned to “shoot and scoot.” After firing a few rounds the guns were quickly broken down and moved out of the area.

On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese attempted several landings on Bataan. One night while on this duty, the B Company, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.

The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. The newspapers in the U.S. wrote about the lull in Bataan and the preparations for the expected offensive.

Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.

A Co. was attached to the 194th Tank Battalion and was on beach duty with A Co., 194th. When the breakthrough came, the two tank companies were directly in the path of the advance. When the Japanese attempted to land troops, their smoke screen blew into their troops causing them to withdraw.

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 Japanese attacked the line held by American troops on April 8th. It was said that the Japanese made what the Americans called “A Bridge of Death” where the Japanese threw themselves on the barbed wire until there were enough bodies on it so the following troops could walk over it. The defenders were not only defending against a frontal attack, but they also were defending against attacks on their flanks and rear.

It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. 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 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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.” 

On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. It was at this time that Smyth witnessed “Japanese Discipline.” If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.

When the trial ended, the POWs reached the main road, and the first thing the Japanese did was separate the officers from the enlisted men. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier. The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a schoolyard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp.

At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment, the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset. They were made to march as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12th at three in the morning.

Later in the day, the men were ordered to move. They had no idea that they had started what they simply called, “the march.” Most of the men had dysentery, some malaria, and others were simply weak from hunger. The first five miles were uphill which was hard on the sick men. It was made harder by the Japanese guards who were assigned a certain distance to march and made the POWs move at a faster pace so that they could complete their distance as fast as possible. Those who could not keep up and fell were bayoneted. At one point they ran past Japanese artillery that was firing at Corregidor with Corregidor returning fire. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide and some of the POWs were killed by incoming shells. Corregidor did destroy three of the four guns.

The Americans were marched in groups of 100 with guns on them at all times. Each group was assigned six Japanese guards who would be changed at regular intervals. Since the guards had a certain distance to cover, they wanted to do it as fast as possible and made the POWs move as fast as possible. Men who fell were shot or bayoneted because the guards did not want to stop for them. When the guards were replaced, the POWs again found themselves moving at a fast pace because they also wanted to complete their assigned portion of the march as fast as possible.

For the enlisted men, the heat on the march was intolerable, and those who begged for water were beaten by the guards with their rifle butts because they had asked. Those who were exhausted or suffering from dysentery and dropped to the side of the road were shot or clubbed to death. Food on the march was minimal when it was given to the prisoners, each would receive a pint of boiled rice. The Filipino people seeing the condition of the prisoners attempted to aid them by passing food to the Americans. If the Filipinos were caught doing this, they were beheaded. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery.

As the POWs made their way north, the Filipinos filled containers with water and placed them along the road. The POWs could not stop but many were able to scoop water into their canteens. By doing this the Filipinos saved a great many lives. The POWs also could see them flashing the “V” for victory sign under their folder arms.

At the end of each day, the POWs were placed in a bullpen for the night. The next day the prisoners were led out of the bullpen four at a time. When 100 men had been counted, their march would start anew. Only those prisoners who marched were fed and those who stayed in the bullpens were not fed or given anything to drink until they continued the march. Other men stated they went to the sides of the roads and lay down for the night.

The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many of these men would later die from dysentery. The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they at there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese passing by them on trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.

Men stated that the worst part of the march was the 100-degree temperatures and the lack of food, the lack of water, and the lack of rest. Men recalled watching American prisoners being beaten, shot, and bayoneted by the Japanese guards because they could not keep up with the column. Men stated the hardest thing they had to do was to walk past another POW who had fallen and was pleading for help. They knew that if they tried to help him, they and the man would both be killed.

At Lamao, the POWs were herded into a corrugated metal warehouse, with a concrete floor, for the night. Suddenly, there were two shots and no one knew what happened but they believed that it was a warning to the prisoners to quiet down. The floor of the building was covered with human waste and the men slept in it. The next morning the prisoners exited the building and continued the march.

Not too far from Lamao, there was evidence that heavy fighting had taken place there. There were the bloated bodies of many Filipinos lying on the ground. One headless body lay in the middle of the road. A few yards away lay the head. It looked like it had been chopped off the body.

They continued the march, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. Clouds were drifting slowly by when he heard someone say, “Send it down J. C.” Suddenly, a light shower began to fall on the POWs and then the rain got heavier many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.

At Orani, the POWs were put in a bullpen and ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.

At San Fernando, the POWs were put in another bullpen. In one corner was a slit trench that was the washroom for the POWs. The surface of it moved from the maggots. It is not known how long he was held in the bullpen and if he was fed while there. At some point, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and were taken to the train station. There they were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights” since they could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each detachment had 100 POWs in it, the Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floors of the cars.

When the prisoners got off the train, there were Japanese offering them money to buy food. The POWs had no idea why they were doing this. The Filipino civilians gave the POWs food and the guards did not stop them. From Capas, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942, because the Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. The POWs were held in two camps with the Americans held on one side of the road while the Filipinos were held on the other side of the road.

At Camp O’Donnell, the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money or other items on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.

Each unit was assigned its own barracks with the 192nd, 194th, and 17th Ordnance in the same area. There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.

The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. Some men said it was slop and made men violently ill. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. Men stated that other men would push the food away and not eat and were gradually starving themselves. When they realized that they were dying they tried to eat but had completely lost their appetites for any food. By May 1st, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.

One of the biggest problems with the food was the cooks – regardless of unit – pilfered extra food for themselves. It was reported that some of the cooks looked healthier than the average POW. The cooks even sold the food to other POWs. When the cooks were replaced in an attempt to deal with the problem, the new cooks soon were doing the same thing.

There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for 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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.

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, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.

The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics 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.

The Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.

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 bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.

The dead were carried to the cemetery in litters and placed in a grave with four other POWs. It was not unusual for a POW working this detail to die and be put into the grave with the other dead. Before they were buried, the dead were stripped of their clothing, which was boiled in hot water and then given to another POW who needed clothing.

When the POWs returned to the cemetery in the morning to dig graves for the men who had died during the night, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them. The men would chase off the dogs, knock the arms and legs down, and rebury them.

A Japanese clerk, Mr. Nishimura, was in charge of giving work details assignments to the POWs. It was stated he was the camp interpreter and a member of the diplomatic corps. 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. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. 

Documents from after the war state that some of the Japanese assigned to the camp had drug problems which may have contributed to the abusive treatment of the POWs. POWs stated that they noticed that at times the guards had glassy eyes and seemed that their speech was slurred. It also was stated that the Japanese government ordered those soldiers caught abusing drugs be executed. The document also stated that the Japanese government went to great lengths to cover the problem up.

To get out of Camp O’Donnell, he volunteered to go out on a work detail to repair vehicles for the Japanese. He was selected for the Bachrach Garage Detail which was part of the Caloocan Work Detail. The POWs on this detail were held at the Bachrach Motor Garage on an island off Manila. 150 other POWs on the Caloocan Detail collected disabled vehicles at different places in Luzon. The POWs attempted to get the vehicles running but those that did not run were tied together with rope and to an operating vehicle. A POW sat in each vehicle as they were pulled by the operating vehicle to Caloocan or San Fernando. At either barrio, POWs attempted to get the vehicles running and those scavenged cars or trucks that they got running were sent to the Bachrach Garage for further repairs. 

In early June, the Japanese organized a work detail to recover the vehicles that had been disabled when Bataan surrendered. The detail was known by several names, but the Calacoon Detail was the best known name. One Hundred Fifty POWs left Camp O’Donnell in May and went to San Fernando, Calacoon, or the Bachrach Garage in Manila. The POWs were divided into three detachments. the largest detachment was the POWs who recovered the vehicles. Smaller detachments of POWs were also at San Fernando, Pampanga, and at the Bachrach Garage in Manila. Other POWs with mechanical skills and welding skills were sent from Cabanatuan 3 in June. The disabled vehicles were towed to San Fernando, where POWs attempted to get them running. If they did, the vehicles were sent to the Bachrach Garage were better repairs were made. The vehicles that could not repaired were stripped for parts and then flatten so the could be sent to Japan as scrap metal. Since he had mechanical skills, he was held at the Bachrach Motor Garage on an island off Manila where the POWs repaired the vehicles.

In May 1942, his parents received a message from the War Department:

Dear Mrs. C. Bussell:

        According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Sergeant Vernon H. Bussell, 20,523,470, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the  Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender. 

        I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter.  In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department.  Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines.  The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war.  At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war.  Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information. 

        The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received.  It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date.  At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war.  In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired.  At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.

        Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months;  to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held;  to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress.  The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records.  Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.

                                                                                                                                                                    Very Truly yours

                                                                                                                                                                            J. A. Ulio (signed) 
                                                                                                                                                                       Major General
                                                                                                                                                                   The Adjutant General
  

While he was on the detail, from September through December, the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The first men known to receive POW numbers were the men on the Tottori Maru which sailed for Japan on October 8th. It is not known when, but Vernon received the number 1-14571 which was his POW no matter where he was sent in the Philippines.

What is known about the detail comes from Capt. Julian Goodman who was sent there to be the doctor on the detail. The POWs lived in the garage building itself until near the end of 1943. At that time with the arrival of more Japanese troops, the POWs were told they had to build a barracks for themselves. To do this, the POWs were given sheet metal that came from warehouses or small stores in Manila. The barrack they built was 30 feet wide and 50 feet long, and along the sides was a bed shelf that came out ten feet from the wall and three feet above the ground. On the shelf were blankets and mosquito netting. The roof of the building was about 20 feet high and sheet metal closed off sheet metal baffles at each end that kept the rain out but allowed for ventilation. In the center of the building was a table built with two-foot by eight-foot wooden planks where the POWs played cards, talked, ate, and drew. The only problem they had with living in it was that it got extremely cold at night.

It was said that one member of the 194th, Sgt, Hugh P. Kissinger, who was the ranking sergeant and had been a boxer, was viewed as a collaborator by the other POWs because he beat up POWs for disobeying the rules the Japanese had imposed on them. He did this to the delight of the Japanese. Some men believed he was attempting to punish the one POW so that punishment wouldn’t be imposed on all the POWs because of the man. Capt. Julien Goodman, who was a doctor, joined the detail in late 1943 to replace the previous doctor and provide medical treatment to the POWs. Goodman stated that when he arrived most of the POWs had reached the point that they were planning for Kissinger to have an accident. 

According to Goodman, there was one POW who always got the hardest jobs because of his size. Kissinger liked to pick on him because the man would not fight back with the guards nearby. One day as the man left the latrine, Kissinger blocked his way. Seeing that there were no guards around the man got into a fight with Kissinger and beat him up. This fight ended Kissinger’s rule over the other POWs, and not long after the fight, Kissinger was transferred to Bilibid Prison.

In 1944, the men on the detail who had been tankers were not happy with the fact that the Japanese were pulling their disabled tanks from the jungle and having the POWs repair them and get them operational. According to Goodman, the members of the 192nd at the garage were not happy that their tanks were going to be used against American forces and wanted to sabotage the tanks. He also noted that the Japanese sergeant in charge of the detail did a thorough job of inspecting the POWs’ work and made it impossible to fix anything in a way that would break later. He also drove the tanks. Goodman stated that Pvt. Alex Gorr, B Co, 192nd, and another POW had the job of draining the oil and gasoline from the tanks once they were on the trucks that took them to the pier in Manila. While loosening the oil caps, they used rags, and in the rags, they had fine sand. While taking the caps off, they dropped fine sand into the engines that would ruin them at a later date making it difficult to trace back to them.

On September 13th, one of the Japanese guards who was friendlier to the POWs told them that the next day they would be transferred to Bilibid Prison. He also told them that at some point they would be sent to Japan. It was on September 21, 1944, when Manila experienced its first American air raid when a formation of 80 planes bombed the city. Some POWs believed the attack would stop the Japanese from sending them to Japan.

Sometime around October 2nd, a list of names of POWs being sent to Japan was posted and his name was on it. In the prison, they were given examinations that determined if they would be sent to Japan or remain at Bilibid. The POWs were taken to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila where they boarded the ship at 4:00 P.M. on the 11th. As they boarded the Arisan Maru, they heard air raid sirens. Nothing on the ship showed that it was carrying POWs but the Japanese kept putting the POWs into the hold. The ship was not attacked.

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-eight prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the ship which could hold 400 men. They were packed in so tightly that they could not move. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself when he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five-gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in the floor of the hold being covered with human waste.

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.”

Avery Wilbur said, “Each prisoner was fed about one teacup of cooked rice twice daily and given a canteen full of dirty water once a day. Sanitary facilities consisted of four 5-gallon buckets which were grossly inadequate. Scores of men were afflicted with dysentery and other sicknesses. The heat was stifling, the stench unbearable… Hundreds went out of their minds. There was room to lie down for only a few. Most of the prisoners stood or squatted on the floor, hour after hour for fourteen days.”

The ship sailed the next day but took a southerly route away from Formosa and dropped anchor in a cove off Palawan Island. During the first 48 hours off Palawan, five POWs died. The POWs realized that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the lighting system, but that they had not turned off the power. They figured out a way to hook the ventilation system into the lights and had fresh air for two days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.

The POWs began developing heat blisters, and the Japanese conceded that more POWs would die unless they did something. The Japanese transferred POWs from the first hold to its second hold. This hold was partially filled with coal. During the transfer, one POW attempted to escape and was shot.

The ship returned to Manila on October 20th, where it joined a twelve-ship convoy. On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs making them targets for American submarines. In addition, U.S. Military Intelligence was reading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines. The POWs in the hold became so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by torpedoes.

Graef described conditions in the hold. “There were so many (that died ) out of 1800. The condition in that 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 were 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.”

Wilber said, “One guy died right beside me. He sat there for two days before they moved him out of there. He started to smell. A lot of guys died on there. They took them up and tossed them over.” (The side of the ship.)

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 24th, 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, at about 4:50 P.M., bells and sirens sounded a warning of submarines. The POWs began to chant for the Navy to sink the ship.

It was 4:50 P.M. when the Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. They next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship. The ship shook and came to a stop. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, killing some of the POWs. Those still alive began cheering wildly, but it stopped when they realized they were facing death.

Cichy recalled, “When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered ‘Hit her again!’ We wanted to get it over with.”

Lt. Robert S. Overbeck also commented on the reaction of the POWs in the holds. “For about five seconds there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed fervently and quieted the men.”

He also said, “When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn’t care a bit–they were tired and weak and sick.” He also said of the incident, “The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn’t break in two. 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. That was about 5:00 P.M. ” It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S. Snook or the U.S.S. Shark.

The Japanese guards took their guns and used them as clubs on the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie them down before they abandoned the ship.

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. Overbeck, Baltimore.” Cichy also stated, “The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own.”

Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out, reattached the ladders, and dropped them to the men in the holds. The POWs left the holds but did not attempt to abandon the ship. On the ship’s deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, “Boys, we’re in a helluva 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.”

Overbeck also stated, “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 day before. The ship slowly sank lower into the water.

Glenn Oliver recalled that he was on the port side and walked back to see the damage caused by the torpedo. The deck was peeled back and he could see water inside the hold washing back and forth. When a wave went under the ship the stern would wobble up and down and he heard the steel tearing. Shortly after this, the stern tore off and the rest of the ship began to take on water quickly. When the water was about five or six feet from the deck, Oliver decided it was time to go over the side and swan several hundred feet away.

As the ship went down, there was an eruption of water, air, and debris. As he watched, he saw men still sitting on the ship’s deck, standing on the deck, and holding onto the ship’s railings.

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 and 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, 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.”

Overbeck stated, “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’ disappeared.” The ship slowly sank lower into the water.

Graef said, “Men without any fear at all, just stayed where they were. They sat down, got water to drink, got rice to eat…they couldn’t swim. The majority went down with the ship.”

According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the water. Some POWs walked back to see the damage caused by the torpedo. The deck was peeled back and water was inside the hold washing back and forth. When a wave went under the ship the stern would wobble up and down and the sound of steel tearing was heard. The stern finally tore off and sunk quickly. After that, the rest of the ship began to take on water quickly with what was left of the stern going under first and the bow coming out of the water. As the men in the water watched, the ship went under with those who could not swim still standing on the deck.

In the water, men attempted to reach a nearby Japanese destroyer. 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.”

Of being in the water, he recalled. “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 lifeboat 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, the Arisan Maru 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 describe it.” As the night went on, there were fewer whistles until there was silence and the next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other POWs were picked up by a Japanese destroyers and taken to Formosa. They later were sent by ship to Japan. One of the three would later die in a POW camp. The men in the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom.

Men were heard calling the names of other men in the dark. 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.

Of the nearly 1,778 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived its sinking, and only eight of these men survived the war. Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell was not one of them. 

It should be mentioned that his brother, Paul, was involved in the liberation of the Philippines and in the islands in June 1945. He had likely hoped to have liberated his brother.

Sometime around June 22, 1945, his family received this letter:

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Bussell;

The International Red Cross has transmitted to this government an official list obtained from the Japanese government, after long delay, of American prisoners of war who were lost while being transported northward from the Philippine islands on a Japanese ship which was sunk on Oct. 24, 1944.

It is with deep regret that I inform you that your son was among those lost when the sinking occurred and, in the absence of any probability of survival, must be considered to have lost his life. He will be carried on records of the War Department as killed in action Oct. 24, 1944. The evidence of his death was received June 16, 1945.

It is with deep regret that I inform you that your son, Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell, 20,523, 470, Provisional Tank Group, was among those lost when that sinking occurred and, in the absence of any probability of survival, must be considered to have lost his life. He will be carried on the records of the War Department as Killed in Action 24 October 1944. The evidence of this death was received 16 June 1945, the date upon which his pay will terminate and accounts will be closed.

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.

It is with deep regret that I must notify you of this unhappy culmination of the long period of anxiety and suffering you have experienced. You have my heartfelt sympathy.

Sincerely yours,

J. A. Ulio
Maj. Gen., The Adjutant General of the Army

Since he was lost at sea, Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell’s name is inscribed on the Walls of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.

Bussellvtm1

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