Pfc. Lester Raymond Buggs
Pfc. Lester R. Buggs was the son of Emil A. Buggs & 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, Lester was called to federal service when the tank company was federalized for one year. At Fort Knox, Lester trained with his tank company for nearly a year. The company was now A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
In early 1941, Lester, his brother, Melvin, and his cousin, Wayne were transferred to HQ Company when it was formed. His duties included keeping the letter companies supplied with ammunition, gasoline and food.
The battalion next was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where they took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941. After the maneuvers, Lester and the other men learned they were being sent overseas. He and his brother returned home to say their goodbyes to friends and family.
Returning to Camp Polk, the battalion was sent over different train routes for San Francisco. There, they were transported by boat to Angel Island, It was from this army base that the 192nd left the United States for the Philippine Islands.
After stops in Hawaii and Guam, the 192nd arrived in Manila. Lester and the other soldiers were rushed to Fort Stotsenburg. There they lived in tents along the main road of the camp and Clark Airfield.
On December 8, 1942, Capt. Walter Write called the members of A Company together and told them the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. He ordered his tanks to the perimeter of Clark Field. Around 11:45 in the morning Lester and the rest of the company watched planes approach Clark Field. When bombs began exploding, they knew the planes were Japanese.
For the next four months Lester fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He and the other members of HQ Company learned of the surrender from Capt. Fred Bruni. On that day. Lester and his brother, Melvin, became POWs.
Lester took part in the death march. His 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." He and the other prisoners went days without food and water.
At San Fernando, Lester and the other POWs were put in small wooden boxcars and road to Capas. As they left the cars, the bodies of the dead fell out. From Capas, he walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
As a prisoner, Lester was first held at Camp O'Donnell. There he worked in the camp hospital. The hospital was divided into wards. Lester was assigned to work with the prisoners who had dysentery. The ward he was assigned to was known as "Zero Ward".
Later, Leter was reassigned and worked in a ward where the men had malaria. While working there, he contracted the disease. When Cabanatuan opened he was sent there as a malaria patient and remained in the hospital for nearly a year. During this time, he also suffered from diphtheria and yellow jaundice while in the camp.
It is not known when, but Lester was sent to Bilibid Prison. From there he was sent to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. He was boarded onto to 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 26th, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa.
On July 28th, the ship arrived at Takao. On August 5th, 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 10th.
In Japan. Lester was held at Fukuoka Camp #17 at Omuta. The barracks at the camp were 20 feet wide by 120 feet long. Each one was divided into ten rooms which were shared by four to six POWs each.
The POWs worked in a coal mine. They had to work bent over since they were taller than the average Japanese miner. A work day was twelve hours long, six days a week. The Japanese made the POWs mine areas which had cracks in the ceiling indicating a cave-in might take place. One was known as the "hotbox" because of its temperatures.
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.
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.
One day, Lester he felt a concussion. It was the concussion from the atomic bomb exploding over Nagasaki. He and the other men had no idea what they had just witnessed.
When the Japanese told the prisoners that they did not have to work, Lester knew that the war was over. One day, an American appeared at the gates of the camp. The reporter from the Chicago Tribune told the POWs that the war was over and Americans had landed on the island. Lester was officially liberated on September 13, 1945. At the time of his liberation, he weighed only sixty pounds. Lester was taken aboard an American hospital ship. When he saw the American flag, he started to cry.
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. After Lester was fattened up, he returned home to Janesville. On December 11, 1945, he married Barbara Kettle. He was discharged from the army on June 6, 1946.
Lester R. Buggs 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.