Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell
Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell was born on July 1, 1921, in Harlan County,
Kentucky, to James D. Bussell & Clara Mae Peace-Bussell. He was one
of the couple's three sons. His family moved outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where he
worked on the family farm. He enlisted in the Kentucky National
Guard's 38th Tank Company which was headquartered in Harrodsburg..
On November 25, 1940, Vernon's tank company was called to federal service and designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He trained for nearly a year at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In early 1941, Vernon was transferred Headquarters Company when it was formed with men from the four letter companies. In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers at Camp Polk that Vernon and the other members of the 192nd learned they were being sent overseas.
Vernon's tank company traveled by train San Francisco and taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. On the island he and the other soldiers received physicals and inoculations. A few days later the battalion sailed for the Philippine Islands.
It is not known exactly when, but what is known is that Vernon was reassigned to the Headquarters Company of the Provisional Tank Group. This detachment consisted of ten enlisted men. It is known that they had two halftracks. After two weeks of readying for maneuvers, the tank group received the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was around 12:45 in the afternoon that Vernon and the other soldiers were having lunch when they saw planes approaching Clark Airfield. It was only when bombs began exploding that the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
During the attack Vernon could do little but hide. After the attack he saw the devastation done by the Japanese. The wounded and dead were everywhere.
For the next four months, Vernon worked to supply the tanks with ammunition and gasoline. The morning of April 9, 1942, he and the other members of HQ Detachment of the Provisional Tank Group learned of the surrender. He would become a Prisoner of War just outside of Mariveles and start the death march there.
On the march, Vernon and the other men received no water and little food. Those who fell were killed by the Japanese. At San Fernando, the POWs were put into small wooden boxcars. They were packed in so tightly that the dead remained standing.
At Capas, the POWs disembarked from the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell. The camp was a death trap with as many as 50 POWs dying each day. It is very likely that Vernon went out on a work detail to get out of the camp, but at this time it is not known which detail he was a member of. It is known that Vernon was held at Cabanatuan which was opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.
After arriving in the camp, Vernon got out of the camp by going out on the scrapmetal detail that was sent back into Bataan. The POWs would tie together vehicles that were inoperable, and drive them behind a operating vehicle, When the detail ended, he was sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In the late fall of 1942 or early 1943, Vernon was selected for the Bachrach Garage Detail in Manila. The POWs were held at a garage which had been owned by a Manila cab company. On the detail, the POWs repaired trucks and other vehicles used by the Japanese.
On October 11, 1944 the Bachrach Garage Detail was disbanded and the POWs were marched to Pier 7. Vernon's company of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru. The ship was ready to sail, but not all the POWs had arrived. The Japanese decided to switch Vernon' POW company with another company of POWs that was ready to sail. Once his entire company of POWs had arrived, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. With him, on the ship, were the other members of the 192nd who had worked with in Manila. The ship set sail and took a southerly route away from Formosa. It arrived at a cove off Palawan Island where it dropped anchor. This resulted in the ship missing an air attack by American planes.
During the time in the cove, the situation for the POWs in the hold became desperate. The POWs discovered that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the hold, but that they had not turned off the power to the light system. Some of POWs managed to "hot wire" the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system. For two days, the POWs had fresh air. When the Japanese discovered what the POWs had done, they turned off the power to the hold.
The death rate among the POWs began to rise and the Japanese realized that if they did not do anything, they would have a "death ship" on their hands. To improve the situation, they transferred POWs from the first hold to the second hold. During the transfer, one POW attempted to escape and was killed.
The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th. There, it became part of a twelve ship convoy for Formosa. On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with "red crosses" indicating they were carrying POWs. This made the ships targets for submarines.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on October 24, 1944, around 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds. The ship was near Shoonan off the coast of China. The POWs watched as the Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship. A torpedo from an American submarine passed in front of the ship. The Japanese next ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship. There was a sudden jar which was caused by the ship being hit by two torpedoes amidships. The ship shook and stopped dead in the water. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U. S. S Snook.
The Japanese guards fired their guns at the POWs on deck to drive them into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds. The Japanese did not tie the hatch covers down. They then abandoned ship.
Some of the POWs in the first hold were able to climb out and attached and lowered the rope ladders to those in the first hold. They also dropped rope ladders down to the POWs in second hold. Many of the POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Others stuffed themselves with what was their last meal. Most of the POWs survived the attack but died because the Japanese refused to rescue them. The Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them. Other Japanese crews pushed the POWs away from their ships with long poles. Those who attempted to climb onto the ships were beaten with clubs.
According to the three POWs who had reached an abandoned lifeboat, the Arisan Maru sank slowly into the water. It was at this time that those POWs still on deck attempted to escape. Since they had no oars for the lifeboat, they could not maneuver the boat.
At some point, the ship broke in two where it had been struck by the torpedoes. The exact time of the ship's sinking was not known since it occurred at night. The survivors told how the cries for help slowly ceased until there was silence. The next morning the men in the boat rescued two more POWs.
Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the 1803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of the men survived the war. Since he was lost at sea, Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.