From  the  book  UNBROKEN  by  Laura  Hillenbrand


IN A CHILLY FALL MORNING IN  1950,  LOUIE WALKED UP a long, level road toward a complex of unadorned buildings. As he approached the archway that marked the entrance to the complex, his whole body tingled. On the arch were painted the words sugamo prison, and beyond it waited Louie's POW camp guards. At long last, Louie had returned to Japan.

In the year that had passed since he had walked into Billy Graham's tent, Louie had worked to keep a promise. He had begun a new life as a Christian speaker, telling his story all over America. The work brought him modest honoraria and offerings, enough to allow him to pay his bills and buy a $150 used DeSoto, finally replacing the car that he'd lost as loan collateral. He had scraped together just enough money for a down payment on a house, but was still so poor that Cissy's crib was the house's only furniture. Louie did the cooking on a single-coil hot plate, and he and Cynthia slept in sleeping bags next to the crib. They were barely getting by, but their connection to each other had been renewed and deepened. They were blissful together.

In the first years after the war, a journey back to Japan had been Louie's obsession, the path to murdering the man who had ruined him.

But thoughts of murder no longer had a home in him. He had come here not to avenge himself but to answer a question.

Louie had been told that all of the men who had tormented him had been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned here in Sugamo. He could speak about and think of his captors, even the Bird, without bitterness, but a question tapped at the back of his mind. If he should ever see them again, would the peace that he had found prove resilient? With trepidation, he had resolved to go to Sugamo to stand before these men.

On the evening before, Louie had written to Cynthia to tell her what he was about to do. He had asked her to pray for him.

The former guards, 850 of them, sat cross-legged on the floor of a-large, bare common room. Standing at the front of the room, Louie looked out over the faces.

At first he recognized none of them. Then, far in the rear, he saw a face he knew, then another and another: Curley, the Weasel, Kono, Jimmie Sasaki. And there was the Quack, who was petitioning to have his death penalty commuted. As Louie looked at this last man, he thought of Bill Harris.

There was one face missing: Louie couldn't find the Bird. When he asked his escort where Watanabe was, he was told that he wasn't in Sugamo. Over five years, thousands of policemen had scoured Japan in search of him, but they had never found him.

As Louie had been packing to come to Japan, the long-awaited day had arrived in the life of Shizuka Watanabe: October 1, 1950, the day her son had promised to come to her, if he was still alive. He had told her to go to the Shinjuku district in Tokyo, where he would meet her at the same restaurant where they had last seen each other, two years before. At 10:05 that morning, police saw Shizuka climb aboard a train bound for the Shinjuku district. At the restaurant, Mutsuhiro apparently never showed up.

Shizuka went to Kofu and checked into a hotel, staying alone, taking no visitors. For four days, she wandered the city. Then she left Kofu abruptly, without paying her hotel bill. The police went in to question the hotel matron. Asked if Shizuka had spoken of her son, the matron said yes.

"Mutsuhiro," Shizuka had said, "has already died."

In the corner of a sitting room in her house, Shizuka would keep a small shrine to Mutsuhiro, a tradition among bereaved Japanese families. Each morning, she would leave an offering in memory of her son.

In Sugamo, Louie asked his escort what had happened to the Bird. He was told that it was believed that the former sergeant, hunted, exiled and in despair, had stabbed himself to death.

The words washed over Louie. In prison camp, Watanabe had forced him to live in incomprehensible degradation and violence. Bereft of his dignity, Louie had come home to a life lost in darkness, and had dashed himself against the memory of the Bird. But on an October night in Los Angeles, Louie had found, in Payton Jordan's word, "daybreak." That night, the sense of shame and powerlessness that had driven his need to hate the Bird had vanished. The Bird was no longer his monster. He was only a man.

In Sugamo Prison, as he was told of Watanabe's fate, all Louie saw was a lost person, a life now beyond redemption. He felt something that he had never felt for his captor before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized that it was compassion.

At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.

Before Louie left Sugamo, the colonel who was attending him asked Louie's former guards to come forward. In the back of the room, the prisoners stood up and shuffled into the aisle. They moved hesitantly, looking up at Louie with small faces.

Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face.



Keith Hunt