JAPAN'S  DEMONIC  BRUTALITY  from  the  book  "UNBROKEN"  by  Laura  Hillenbrand\

Plots Afoot

THE PLOT BEGAN WITH A QUESTION. IT WAS THE SUMMER of 1944, and Louie and Frank Tinker were walking together in the Ofuna compound. Louie could hear small planes coming and going from an airstrip somewhere in the distance, and the sound started him thinking. If we could get out of here, he asked Tinker, could you fly a Japanese plane?

"If it has wings," Tinker replied.

From that brief exchange, an idea took root. Louie, Tinker, and Harris were going to escape.

They'd been driven to this point by a long, desperate spring and summer. Every day, the men were slapped, kicked, beaten, humiliated, and driven through forced exercises. There were sudden explosions of violence that left captives spilled over the ground, hoping they wouldn't be killed. And that spring, the central authorities had cut rations to all prisoners dramatically. With only about half of the official ration ending up in the captives' bowls, the men were wasting away. When the Japanese weighed the captives, Bill Harris, over six feet tall, tipped the scale at izo pounds. He had developed beriberi.

Louie was driven to ever more reckless efforts to find food. He stole an onior/and secretly cooked it under a water heater, but divided be-tween/several men, it didn't amount to much. He stole a package of mis'o paste and, when the guards weren't looking, shovelled it into his mouth and swallowed it in one gulp, not knowing that miso paste is extremely concentrated, meant to be diluted in water. He was soon doubled over behind the barracks, heaving his guts out. He was so mad for food that he snuck from his cell late at night, broke into the kitchen, and crammed his mouth full of chestnuts that were to be served to the guards. When he looked up, Shithead was there, watching him. Louie backed away, then sprinted back to his cell. Shithead didn't beat him for it, but the guard's appearance was enough to scare Louie out of another go at the kitchen. The best he could do was volunteer to starch the guards' shirts. The starch was made from rice water pressed through cloth; after Louie pressed the rice, he spent the rest of his time picking flecks of it off the cloth and eating them.

Finally, opportunity knocked. Camp officials asked for a volunteer to work as barber for the guards, offering payment of one rice ball per job. The idea of working around the guards was intimidating, but Louie had to eat. "When he came forward, he was given not just electric clippers but a straight razor. He'd never used one before, and he knew what the guards would do to him if they were nicked. He took the razor to his cell and practiced on himself until he could shave without drawing blood. When he walked out to do his first job, the guard balled up his fist at him, then made a demand that, to an American, seemed bizarre. He wanted his forehead shaved, a standard barbering practice in Japan. All of the guards expected Louie to do this. Louie managed not to cut anyone, and the rice balls kept him alive.

A notoriously cruel guard called the Weasel began coming to Louie for shaves, but every time, he left without paying. Louie knew what he would risk in evening the score, but he couldn't resist. While shaving the Weasel's forehead, he let the blade stray a little low. By the time he was done, all that was left of the Weasel's bushy eyebrows was a coquettish line. The Weasel stood, left without paying, and entered the guardhouse. A moment later, Louie heard a shout. , .

"Marlene Dietrich!"

Louie backed away, waiting for the Weasel to burst out. Several other guards went into the guardhouse, and Louie could hear laughing. The Weasel never punished Louie, but the next time he needed a shave, he went elsewhere.

For the captives, every day was lived with the knowledge that it could be their last. The nearer the Allies came to Japan, the larger loomed the threat of the kill-all order. The captives had only a vague idea of how the war was going,, but the Japanese were clearly worried. In an interrogation session in late spring, an official told Fitzgerald that if Japan lost, the captives would be executed. "Hope for Japan's victor," he said. The quest for news of the war took on special urgency.

One morning, Louie was on the parade ground, under orders to sweep the compound. He saw the Mummy—the camp commander— sitting under a cherry tree, holding a newspaper. He was nodding off. Louie loitered near him, watching. The Mummy's head tipped, his fingers parted, and the paper fluttered to the ground. Louie swept his way over, reached out with the broom, and, as quietly as he could, forked the newspaper to himself. The text was in Japanese, but there was a war map on one page. Louie ran to the barracks, found Harris, and held the paper up before him. Harris stared at it, memorizing the map. Louie then ran the paper to the garbage so they'd have no evidence of the theft. Harris drew a perfect rendering of the map, showed it to the other captives, then destroyed it. The map confirmed that the Allies were closing in on Japan.

In July, the scuttlebutt in camp was that the Americans were attacking the critical island of Saipan, in the Mariana,Islands, south of mainland Japan. A spindly new captive was hauled in, and everyone eyed him as a source of information, but the guards kept him isolated and forbade the veterans from speaking to him. When the new man was led to the bathhouse, Louie saw his chance. He snuck behind the building and looked in an open window. The captive was standing naked, holding a pan of water and washing as the guard stood by. Then the guard stepped away to light a cigarette.

"If we've taken Saipan, drop the pan," Louie whispered.

The pan clattered to the floor. The captive picked it up, dropped it again, then did it a third time. The guard rushed back in, and the captive pretended that the pan had accidentally slipped.

Louie hurried to his friends and announced that Saipan had fallen. At the time of their capture, the American bomber with the longest range was the B-Z4. Because the Liberator didn't have the range to make the three-thousand-mile round-trip between Saipan and Japan's home islands, the captives must have believed that winning Saipan was only a preliminary step to establishing an island base within bomber range of mainland Japan. They didn't know that the AAF had introduced a new bomber, one with tremendous range. From Saipan, the Japanese mainland was already within reach.

The guards and officials were increasingly agitated. Sasaki had long crowed about the inevitability of Japan's victory, but now he buddied up to the captives, telling Louie of his hatred of former prime minister and war architect Hideki Tojo. He began to sound like he was rooting for the Allies.

As they considered the news on Saipan, Louie and the others had no idea what horrors were attending the Allied advance. That same month, American forces turned on Saipan's neighboring isle, Tinian, where the Japanese held five thousand Koreans, conscripted as laborers. Apparently afraid that the Koreans would join the enemy if the Americans invaded, the Japanese employed the kill-all policy. They murdered all five thousand Koreans.

At night, as .they lay in their cells, the captives began hearing an unsettling sounds far in the distance. It was the scream of air-raid sirens. They listened for bombers, but none came.

As summer stretched on, conditions in Ofuna declined. The air was clouded with flies, lice hopped over scalps, and wiggling lines of fleas ran the length of the seams in Louie's shirt. Louie spent his days and nights scratching and slapping, and his skin, like that of everyone else, was speckled with angry bite marks. The Japanese offered a rice ball to the man who killed the most flies, inspiring a cutthroat swatting competition and hoarding of flattened corpses. Then, in July, the men were marched outside and into a canal to bail water into rice paddies. "When they emerged at the day's end, they were covered in leeches. Louie had six on his chest alone. The men became frantic, begging the guards for their cigarettes. As they squirmed around, jabbing at the leeches with cigarettes, one of the guards looked down at them.

"You should be happy in your work," he said.

On August 5, a truck bearing the month's rations arrived. As Fitzgerald watched, camp officials stripped it nearly clean. Curley announced that the rations were again being cut, blaming it on rats. Fitzgerald noted in his diary that after officials were done "brown bagging" their way through the seventy pounds of sugar allotted to the captives, one teacup of sugar remained. On August 22, a truck backed up to the kitchen door, and the captive kitchen workers were told to leave. Fitzgerald went to the benjo, from which he could see the kitchen. He saw sacks of food being piled into the truck, which then left camp. "Someone must be opening up a store and really getting set up in business," he wrote.

The beatings went on. The Quack was especially feral. One day, Louie saw some Japanese dumping fish into the trough in which the "captives washed their hands and feet. Told to wash the fish, Louie walked up and peered into the trough. The fish were putrid and undulating with maggots. As he recoiled, the Quack saw him, pounded over, and punched him a dozen times. That night, the same fish was ladled into Louie's bowl. Louie wouldn't touch it. A guard jabbed him behind the ear with a bayonet and forced him to eat it.

And then there was Gaga. Something about this affectionate little duck, perhaps the fact that he! was beloved to the captives, provoked the guards. They tortured him mercilessly, kicking him and hurling him around. Then one day, in full view of the captives, Shithead opened his pants and violated the bird. Gaga died. Of all the things he witnessed in war, Louie would say, this was the worst.

Louie's mind fled Ofuna and carried him home. He hadn't seen his family in two years. He thought of the little white house, Virginia and Sylvia, his father and dear, devoted Pete. Most poignant were his memories of his mother. Fred Garrett had told Louie that he'd been given up for dead. Louie couldn't bear the thought of what this news must have done to his mother.

It was the accumulation of so much suffering, the tug of memory, and the conviction that the Japanese wouldn't let them leave Ofuna alive that led Louie to listen to the nearby planes and wonder if they could be a way out. Examining the fence, he, Tinker, and Harris concluded that it might be possible to get around the guards and over the barbed wire. The thought hooked all three of them. They decided to make a run for it, commandeer a plane, and get out of Japan.

At first, their plans hit a dead end. They'd been brought in blindfolded and had ventured out of camp only briefly, to irrigate the rice paddies, so they knew little about the area. They didn't know where the airport was, or how they'd steal a plane. Then a kind guard inadvertently helped them. Thinking that they might enjoy looking at a book, he gave them a Japanese almanac. Harris cracked it open and was immediately rapt. The book was full of detailed information on Japan's ports, the ships in its harbors and the fuels they used, and the distances between cities and landmarks. It was everything they needed, to craft an escape.

In hours spent poring over the book, they shaped a plan. They discarded the plane idea in favor of escape by boat. Just a few miles to the east was the port of Yokohama, only there was nowhere to go from there. But if they crossed Japan to the western shore, they could get to a port that would offer a good route to safety.

They'd go on foot. Harris plotted a path across the island, a walk of about 150 miles. It would be dangerous, but Harris's earlier experience of hiking all over the Bataan Peninsula gave them confidence. Once at a port, they'd steal a powerboat and fuel, cross the Sea of Japan, and flee into China. Given that Louie had drifted two thousand miles on a hole-riddled raft with virtually no provisions, a few hundred miles on the Sea of Japan in a sturdy powered boat seemed manageable. Tinker, who'd been captured more recently than Harris and Louie, had the most current knowledge of which areas of China were occupied by the enemy. He worked out a route that they hoped would steer them clear of the Japanese.

They counted on finding safe harbor in China. In 1942, America had launched its first and, until recently, only bombing raid on Japan's home islands. The raid had used B-25S flown, perilously, off an aircraft carrier, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. After bombing Japan, some of the Doolittle crews had run out of gas and crashed or bailed out over China. Civilians had hidden the airmen from the Japanese, who'd ransacked the country in search of them. Harris, Tinker, and Louie had heard rumors that the Japanese had retaliated against Chinese civilians for sheltering the Doolittle men, but didn't know the true extent of it. The Japanese had murdered an estimated quarter of a million civilians.

There was one problem that the men didn't know how to overcome. When they stood near the guards, it was impossible not to notice how much the Americans differed from typical Japanese people, and not simply in facial features. The average Japanese soldier was five foot three. Louie was five foot ten, Tinker six feet, Harris even taller. Hiking across Japan, they'd be extremely conspicuous. China might be welcoming, but in Japan, it would be foolish to assume that they'd find friendly civilians. After the war, some POWs would tell of heroic Japanese civilians who snuck them food and medicine, incurring ferocious beatings from guards when they were caught. But this behavior was not the rule. POWs led through cities were often swarmed by civilians, who beat them, struck them with rocks, and spat on them. If Louie, Harris, and Tinker were caught, they would almost certainly be killed, either by civilians or by the authorities. Unable to remedy the height difference, they decided to move only at night and hope for the best. If they were going to die in Japan, at least they could take a path that they and not their captors chose, declaring, in this last act of life, that they remained sovereign over their own souls.

As the plan took shape, the prospective escapees walked as much as possible, strengthening their legs. They studied the guards' shifts, noting that there was a patch of time at night when only one guard watched the fence. Louie stole supplies for the journey. His barber job gave him access to tools, and he was able to make off with a knife. He stole miso paste and rice. He gathered bits of loose paper that flitted across the compound, to be used for toilet paper, and every strand of loose string he could find. He stashed all of it under a floorboard in his cell.

For two months, the men prepared. As the date of escape neared, Louie was filled with what he called "a fearful joy."

Just before the getaway date, an event occurred that changed everything. At one of the POW camps, a prisoner escaped. Ofuna officials assembled the men and issued a new decree: Anyone caught escaping would be executed, and for every escapee, several captive officers would be shot. Louie, Tinker, and Harris suspended their plan.

With the escape off, Louie and Harris channeled their energy into the captive information network. At the beginning of September, a captive saw a newspaper lying on the Quack's desk. There, was a war map printed in it. Few things were more dangerous than stealing from the Quack, but given the threat of mass executions upon an Allied invasion, the captives were willing to do almost anything to get news. Only one man had the thieving experience for a job this risky.

For several days, Louie staked out the Quack's office, peeking in windows to watch him and the guards. At a certain time each day, they'd go into the office for tea, walk out together to smoke, then return. The length of their cigarette break never varied: three minutes. This was Louie's only window of opportunity, and it was going to be a very, very close call.

Sueharu Kitamura,  "the Quack."

With Harris in place, Louie loitered by the Quack's office, waiting for his moment. The Quack and the guards stepped out, cigarettes in hand. Louie crept around the side of the building, dropped onto all fours so that he wouldn't be seen through the windows, and crawled into the office. The newspaper was still there, sitting on the desk. Louie snatched the paper, stuck it under his shirt, then crawled back out, rose to his feet, and walked to Harris's cell, striding as quickly as he could without attracting attention. He opened the paper and showed it to'Harris, who stared at it for several seconds. Then Louie crammed it under his shirt again and sped back to the Quack's office. His luck had held; the Quack and the guards were still outside. He went back down on all fours, hurried in, threw the paper on the desk, and fled. No one had seen him.

At the barracks, Harris pulled out a strip of toilet paper and a pencil and drew the map. The men all looked at it. Memories later differed as to the subject of the map, but everyone recalled that it showed Allied progress. Harris hid the map among his belongings. . In the late afternoon of September 9, Harris was sitting in a cell with another captive, discussing the war, when the Quack swept into the doorway. Harris hadn't heard him coming. The Quack noticed something in Harris's hand, stepped in, and snatched it. It was the map. The Quack studied the map; on it, he saw the words "Philippine" and "Taiwan." He demanded that Harris tell him what it was; Harris replied that it was idle scribbling. The Quack wasn't fooled. He went to Harris's cell, ransacked it, and found, by his account, a trove of hand-drawn maps—some showing air defenses of mainland Japan—as well as the stolen newspaper clipping and the dictionary of military terms. The Quack called in an officer, who spoke to Harris, then left. Everyone thought that the issue was resolved.

That night, the Quack abruptly called all captives into the compound. He looked strange, his face crimson. He ordered the men to do push-ups for about twenty minutes, then adopt the Ofuna crouch. Then he told Harris to step forward. Louie heard the marine whisper, "Oh my God. My map."

The men who witnessed what followed would never blot it from memory. Screeching and shrieking, the Quack attacked Harris, kicking him, punching him, and clubbing him with a wooden crutch that he took from an injured captive. When Harris collapsed, his nose and shins streaming blood, the Quack ordered other captives to hold him up, and the beating resumed. For forty-five minutes, perhaps an hour, the beating went on, long past when Harris fell unconscious. Two captives fainted.

At last, raindrops began to patter over the dirt, the Quack, and the body beneath him. The Quack paused. He dropped the crutch, walked to a nearby building, leaned against its wall, and slid languidly to the ground, panting.

As the guards dragged Harris to his cell, Louie followed. The guards jammed Harris in a seated position against a wall, then left. There Harris sat, eyes wide open but blank as stones. It was two hours before he moved.

Slowly, in the coming days, he began to revive. He was unable to feed himself, so Louie sat with him, helping him eat and trying to speak with him, but Harris was so dazed that he could barely communicate. When he finally emerged from his cell, he wandered through camp, his face grotesquely disfigured, his eyes glassy. When his friends greeted him, he didn't know who they were.

Three weeks later, on the morning of September 30, 1944, the guards called the names of Zamperini, Tinker, Duva, and several other men. The men were told that they were going to a POW camp called Omori, just outside of Tokyo. They had ten minutes to gather their things.

Louie hurried to his cell and lifted the floorboard. He pulled out his diary and tucked it into the folds of his clothing. At a new camp, a body search would be inevitable, so he left his other treasures for the next captive to find. He said good-bye to his friends, among them Harris, still; floating in concussed misery. Sasaki bid Louie a friendly farewell, offering some advice: If interrogated, stick to the story he'd told on Kwaja-lein. A few minutes later, after a year and fifteen days in Ofuna, Louie was driven from camp. As the truck rattled out of the hills, he was euphoric. Ahead of him lay a POW camp, a promised land.



Keith Hunt