PFC Lester Raymond Buggs was the son of Emil A. Buggs and Helen Ohl-Buggs. He was born on October 1, 1918, and grew up at 618 South Academy Street in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was employed as a linesman for the Works Projects Administration. With his brother, Melvin, he joined the 32nd Battalion Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard, in Janesville, in April 1940. Another member of the tank company was his cousin, Wayne Buggs.
In the fall of 1940, the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal duty as A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. A three-man detail was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, a few days earlier. Another detachment of 23 soldiers left the armory at 7:00 A.M. on November 27. It is known that the roads were ice-covered so the trip was slow which resulted in one truck hitting a civilian’s car. No other information is available about the incident. The road conditions improved the further south the convoy went. The soldiers spent the night at an armory in Danville, Illinois, before heading south to Ft. Knox arriving there sometime the next afternoon.
The next day, November 28, between 4:00 and 5:00 P.M., the main detachment of soldiers that marched from the armory to the Milwaukee Road train station in Janesville where they boarded special cars that had been added to the Marquette to Chicago train. One was a flatcar with the company’s two tanks on it. At some point, the train cars were uncoupled from the train and switched onto the Chicago & Northwestern line that went into Maywood, Illinois. There, the members of B Company boarded the train and their equipment – including their two tanks – was loaded onto the train. In Chicago, the train cars were switched onto the Illinois Central Railroad and taken to Ft. Knox arriving around 8:00 A.M. When they arrived, trucks were waiting at the station to take them to the fort. Their first housing were six men tents since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
It is known that he was one of the soldiers from Janesville who went home for Christmas. The soldiers left Ft. Knox at about 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 21 – by chartered bus – and arrived in Janesville at about 3:00 A.M. on Sunday, December 22. They remained in Janesville until the afternoon of Christmas Day when they boarded the chartered bus for the return trip to Ft. Knox.
1st Sgt. Dale Lawton – on December 26 – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed Hq Company. Men were picked for the company because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. It was at this time that Lester was transferred to the newly created company.
A Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The men assigned to the Hq Company still lived with the A Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. 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 their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom.
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 Capt. Walter Write’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to Hq Company moved into their own barracks by February. 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. Although the barracks were finished, A Company shared D Company’s mess hall until the company’s mess hall opened. 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.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. 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. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, 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. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. At first, A Company’s meals were served in D Company’s mess hall until their mess hall was finished in December. 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.
It was also at this time that all the battalion had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the company. On January 10, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the company in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
Capt Walter Write, during February, commanded a composite tank company made of men from all the companies of the battalion. The company left Ft. Knox on a problematic move at 9:00 A.M. The company consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. At noon, the column stopped for a short rest and a lunch that did not materialize. A guide had failed to stay at one of the crossings until the kitchen truck arrived there, so instead of turning into the woods, the truck went straight. After the break, Capt. Write ordered the men back to Ft. Knox without having been fed.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 beeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion 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 on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
From September 1 through 30, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train. Hq Company’s job was to keep the tank companies supplied and the tanks running.
One of the major problems was snake bites. It appeared that every other man was bitten at some point by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snakebit kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.
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 struck if the man forced himself on it. 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.
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.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. 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.
The 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 and in support of infantry and held defensive positions. They usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. 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.
During their 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 a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
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. 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.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this 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.
At night a number of 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.
Lester and his brother returned home to say their goodbyes to friends and family. After the company was brought up to strength with replacements from the 753rd Tank Battalion and equipped with new tanks and half-tracks which also came from the 753rd it traveled west by train. One train carried the tankers while a second train following the first carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the train were a freight car and a passenger car that some of the tankers rode. When they arrived at San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27 which arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a two-day layover. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. Once in Hawaii, the soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. Allen stated that the Louisville intercepted two Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal. When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. 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 they left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone 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.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. The truth was that he had not learned of their arrival until just days before their ship docked. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they all received dinner – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
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 on the 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” – which was borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
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 do the 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 including going to the PX.
On Monday, December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers. The 194th was assigned the northern end of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern end. At all times, two crew members had to remain with their tank or half-track and received their meals from food trucks. Hq Company made sure that the companies had what they needed.
On the morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered up to full strength at Clark Field and joined by the half-tracks. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since their bivouac was near the main road, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
The 192nd remained at Clark Field and lived through bombings two more bombings. On December 21, the 192nd was ordered to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts. Hq Company was to support B and C Companies, but because of logistics problems the tank companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough gas for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
During the Battle of the Philippines, the members of Hq Company attempted to make sure that the letter companies received the necessary supplies and repairs to keep the tanks running. On several occasions, this meant going into a combat area to recover a disabled tank. With 17th Ordnance they often found themselves making repairs to the tanks on the frontlines. In addition, they had the job of finding the tanks and providing fuel and ammunition to them. It was at the Pilar-Bigac area on January 14, the company and 17th Ordnance had the opportunity to do long overdue tank maintenance. Six carloads of parts, ammunition, and fuel for the tanks had been sent into Bataan in November which allowed the company to replace worn-out tracks and engine parts. The tanks were sent back into action as they became available. In addition, the tanks received ammunition.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkey, snake, lizard, horse, and mule. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes, but Gen Weaver pointed out to him that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined. It was also at this time that the Self Propelled Mounts joined the tanks on the line. By doing this, the tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down 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 counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was 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, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left. C Company, 192nd, was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern part of the defensive line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
That same evening, Capt. Fred Bruni, Hq’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at the company’s encampment. They were now Prisoners of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
Hq Company finally boarded trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit. As they sat and watched, the Prisoners of War noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them. As they sat there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in front of the soldiers. He got out and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles. In the schoolyard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed by incoming shells since they had no place to hide. The American guns did knock out three of the Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, they received no water and little food. At San Fernando, they were put in a bullpen, ordered to sit, and left sitting in the sun.
Lester’s recollection of the march was as follows. “We just dragged ourselves along the road expecting to reach something pretty good, but it wasn’t there.”
Later, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station where they were put into small wooden boxcars known as “Forty and Eights” because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar so tightly that those men who died could not fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the living disembarked the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again, but the Japanese never had a shortage of water. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The POWs received three meals a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half of cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. 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. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept.
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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi 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 own use. A second truck with medical supplies sent by the Red Cross to the camp was turned away at the gate.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs in the hospital – was healthy enough to care for them. The floor was covered in human feces since many of the sick had dysentery and their clothes were covered in it. Many of the sick had been stripped naked. To clean the floor the medical staff came up with homemade cleaner. 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.
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. In an attempt to stop the spread of disease, the dead were moved to one area, and the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The less sick from the hospital were required to dig latrines and were given a canteen of water that was expected to last three days. The sick who went out on work details came back to the camp and died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
In the camp, he worked in the camp hospital which was divided into wards. Lester was assigned to work with the prisoners who had dysentery. Later, Lester was reassigned and worked in a ward where the men had malaria. While working there, he contracted the disease. When Cabanatuan opened Lester remained behind at Camp O’Donnell. He was finally discharged from the hospital on July 5 and sent to Cabanatuan.
In May, his parents received a letter from the War Department.
Dear Mr. E. Buggs:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private First Class Lester R. Buggs, 20,645,225, 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)
The Adjutant General
In July his family received a second message from the War Department in July 1942. The following is an excerpt from it.
THE LAST REPORT OF CASUALTIES RECEIVED BY THE WAR DEPARTMENT FROM THE PHILIPPINES ARRIVED EARLY IN THE MORNING OF MAY 6. THROUGH THIS DATE, PRIVATE FIRST CLASS LESTER R BUGGS HAD NOT BEEN REPORTED AS A CASUALTY. THE WAR DEPARTMENT L CONSIDER THE PERSONS SERVING IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS AS “MISSING IN ACTION” FROM THE DATE OF SURRENDER OF CORREGIDOR, MAY 7, UNTIL DEFINITE INFORMATION TO THE CONTRARY IS RECEIVED. “EFFORTS TO SECURE PRISONER OF WAR LISTS FROM THE PHILIPPINES HAVE NOT BEEN SUCCESSFUL TO THIS DATE DUE TO THE LACK OF COMMUNICATION AND THE FAC THAT THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT HAS NOT YET GIVEN PERMISSION FOR THE SWISS REPRESENTATIVE AND THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS DELEGATES TO MAKE VISITS TO THE PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS IN THE ISLANDS. WHEN THE LIST OF PRISONERS ARE RECEIVED, WE WILL CLEAR THE NAME OF YOUR SON AND SEND YOU ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION THAT WE MAY HAVE.=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=
Cabanatuan had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Sometimes, the POWs received rotten fish. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill. The POWs were divided into groups of ten men. The men lived together and worked together. If one man escaped the other nine POWs would be executed.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier. Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had. At some point, he came down with malaria again and remained in the hospital for nearly a year. During this time, he also suffered from diphtheria and yellow jaundice.
In May 1943, the family received another message from the War Department.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PFC LESTER R BUGGS IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
This was followed by another letter from the War Department.
The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
It is suggested that you address him as follows:
PFC Lester R. Buggs
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau
It is not known when, but Lester was sent to Bilibid Prison. But, it was from there that he was sent to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. He was boarded onto the Clyde Maru and sent to Japan. The ship sailed on July 23, 1943, and went to Santa Cruz, Zambales. It remained in port three days and loaded manganese ore. On July 26, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa.
On July 28, the ship arrived at Takao. On August 5, it sailed as part of a nine-ship convoy. The convoy arrived at Moji on August 7, 1943. They were marched to a train station and rode a train to Omuta. After a two-day train trip, the POWs arrived at the camp on August 10.
In Japan. Lester was held at Fukuoka #17, at Omuta, where the POWs worked in a condemned coal mine where each team of POWs was expected to load three cars of coal a day. The POWs worked 12-hour workdays with the constant threat of rocks falling on them. Those POWs who the Japanese believed were not working hard enough were beaten. The POWs worked in three shifts with a 30-minute lunch and one day off every ten days.
The camp was surrounded by a 12-foot wooden fence that had three heavy gauge electrified wires attached to it. The first wire was attached at six feet with the others higher up. The POWs lived in 33 one-story barracks 120 feet long and 16 feet wide and divided into ten rooms. Officers slept four men to a room while enlisted men slept from four to six men in a room. Each room was lit by a 15-watt bulb, and at the end of each building was a latrine with three stools and a urinal. The POWs slept on beds, which were 5 feet 8 inches long by 2½ feet wide, made of a tissue paper and cotton batting covered with a cotton pad. Three heavy cotton blankets were issued to each POW plus a comfortable made of tissue paper, scrap rags, and scrap cotton.
Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners. To prevent this from happening, the POWs would “buddy-up” with each other. Another problem in the camp was that POWs traded their food rations for cigarettes. POWs who did this were referred to as “future corpses.” The situation got so bad that the Japanese finally stepped in and stopped it.
A meal consisted of rice and vegetable soup three times a day. Those POWs working in the mine received 700 grams a day, while camp workers received 450 grams a day. Officers, since they were not required to work, received 300 grams a day. Those working in the mine received three buns every second day since they did not return to camp for lunch. The meals were cooked in the camp kitchen which was manned by 15 POWs. Seven of the POWs were professional cooks. The kitchen had 11 cauldrons, 2 electric baking ovens, 2 kitchen ranges, 4 storerooms, and an icebox. To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens, and seaweed.
There were also bathing rooms in the camp with two bathing tanks that were 30 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. The tubs were heated with very hot water. The POWs working in the mine bathed during the winter after cleaning themselves before entering the tubs. They did not bathe during the summer months to prevent skin diseases.
The camp hospital was a building of ten rooms that could each hold 30 men. There was an isolation ward for 15 POWs usually men suffering from tuberculosis. The POW doctors had little to no medicines or medical supplies to treat the ill. Dental treatment consisted of removing teeth without anesthesia.
In addition, the sick were forced to work. The Japanese camp doctor allowed the sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine. He also took the Red Cross medical supplies meant for the POWs for his own use and failed to provide adequate medical treatment. Food that came in the packages was eaten by the guards. Those POWs working in the mine were given more Red Cross supplies than the other POWs.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp. The guards beat the POWs for the slightest reason and continued until the POW was unconscious. The man was then taken to the guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without food or water for a long period of time.
The Japanese interpreter in the camp refused to perform his duties resulting in the POWs receiving beatings because they could not explain the situation. He also would inform the guards of any alleged violations of camp rules which resulted in the POWs being severely beaten. This happened frequently at the mine with the interpreter usually the person responsible. He also, for no reason, slapped and beat the POWs.
On one occasion in November 1944, shirts had been stolen from a bundle in a building. The Japanese ordered all the POWs to assemble and told them that they would not be fed until the shirts were returned. The men returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00 P.M.
During the winter, the POWs were made to stand at attention and had water thrown on them as they stood in the cold, or they were forced to kneel on bamboo poles. It is known that the POWs were made to stand in water and shocked with electrical current. At some point, Jim recalled, two POWs were tied to a post and left to die. This was done they had violated a camp rule.
On August 9, 1945, some of the POWs saw the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Those who saw it described that it was a sunny day and that the explosion still lit up the sky. The pillar of smoke that rose from the bomb was described as having all the colors of the rainbow. Afterward, the POWs saw what they described as a fog blanketing Nagasaki, which seemed to have vanished. Lester said he was working in the mine and felt a concussion.
On August 18, 1944, a short wave message from Japan listed him as a POW. This was the first news his family had received about him since they had first received word that he was a prisoner of war. During his time at the camp, he suffered from beriberi. While he was there, the camp was hit by bombs from American planes. The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they moved in with the British and Dutch POWs.
The POWs went to work and talked to the Japanese miners who spoke about how those, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated these Japanese died within days. They also told of how they heard about a detachment of Japanese soldiers sent into Nagasaki, to recover victims, and how its members suffered the same fate.
When the POWs came out of the mine, they found that the next shift of POWs was not waiting to go to work. That night, the POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours. They all had their blankets because they believed they were going to be moved. Instead, they were returned to their barracks. The next day, when it was their turn to go to work, they were told it was a holiday, and they had the day off. They knew something was up because they had never had a holiday off before this.
Shortly after this, the Japanese became more tolerant, which caused the prisoners to hope that liberation was near. When the Japanese told the prisoners that they did not have to work, Lester knew that the war was over. The Japanese guards soon disappeared from the camp.
The POWs talked about how Japanese civilians, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated the Japanese died within days. They told of how they heard about a detachment of Japanese soldiers had been sent into Nagasaki and how its members suffered the same fate.
Finally, the POWs were gathered in the camp and told that Japan and the United States were now friends. They were also told to stay in the camp. They also found a warehouse with Red Cross packages and distributed the packages to the camp. One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News entered the camp. He told the POWs that there were American troops on Honshu. The camp was liberated on September 13, by a POW Recovery Team. At that time he weighed only sixty pounds.
At 7:09 A.M. on September 16, the former POWs left the camp and taken to the Dejma Docks at Nagasaki where they were taken aboard an American hospital ship. September 16 also became the date that he was officially considered liberated. When Lester saw the American flag, he started to cry. His medical condition was recorded as “fair.” It was determined at that time that he be returned to the Philippines for additional medical treatment.
His parents received a telegram from the War Department.
Mr. & Mrs. Buggs: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, PFC Lester R. Buggs was returned to military control Sept. 13 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
E. F. Witsell
Acting Adjutant General of the Army
Lester sent a telegram home to his parents. In it, he stated that he hoped that his brother, Melvin, was already home. Lester returned to the Philippines where he learned that his brother, Melvin, had died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru on October 24, 1944. He was also promoted to corporal at this time.
After Lester was fattened up, he returned to the United States arriving in Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945, on the U.S.S. Marine Shark. He returned home to Janesville, and on December 11, 1945, and married Barbara Kettle in Dubuque, Iowa. He was discharged from the army on June 6, 1946.
Lester R. Buggs worked for Great Lake Mills in Janesville and later moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and spent the rest of his life there. He passed away on April 27, 1983, and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin.