Bussell, Vernon H. (P2, C1, L15)
Sergeant Vernon Harold Bussell, 23, of Harrodsburg, Mercer County was lost at sea on 24 October 1944 when an American submarine attacked the unmarked Japanese prisoner transport ship he was being held aboard enroute to Formosa as a prisoner of war on federal active duty.
Bussell was born at Wallins Creek, Harlan County, Kentucky, and his family later moved to a farm outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. When he enlisted in Harrodsburg's 38th Tank Company in March 1940 he reported his occupations as farmer and mechanic. The 38th Tank Company was the first Kentucky unit ordered to active duty in Kentucky on 25 November 1940 and was redesignated as Company D, 192nd Light Tank Battalion at Fort Knox. Bussell was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion in early 1941 and eventually would serve in the Headquarters Company of the Provisional Tank Group.
Moving under secret orders, Company D arrived in the Philippines by Thanksgiving Day, 1941. War came to them when the Japanese attacked Clark Field just a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack on the Philippines, he worked to supply the tanks with ammunition and gasoline. The Harrodsburg Tankers along with the allied forces fought the Japanese valiantly without reinforcements or resupply until they were ordered to surrender in April 1942. They had delayed the Japanese Army's timetable from 50 days to four months, giving the allies vital time to protect Australia and recover from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
They were taken prisoner on 11 April 1942. They were trucked to Mariveles where he began the 90 mile Death March eventually ending up at Camp O’Donnell. Bussell was able to escape the horrible conditions of the camp and back into Bataan by going out on the scrap metal detail. The POWs would tie together vehicles that were inoperable, and pull them behind an operating vehicle. He was also held in Cabanatuan. Bussell 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 11 October 1944 the Bachrach Garage Detail was disbanded and they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru. On 24 October 1944, around 5:00 pm, near Shoonan off the coast of China two torpedoes from an American submarine struck amidships. The Japanese guards cut the rope ladders to the holds and closed the hatch covers before abandoning ship leaving the POWs. Some of the POWs managed to climb out of the holds and lowered rope ladders. Most of the POWs survived the attack but died because the Japanese refused to rescue them from the water. The ship eventually broke in two and sank during the night. Sgt. Vernon H. Bussell lost his life on 24 October 1944, when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea. Of the 1,803 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking. 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.