From  the  book  UNBROKEN by  Laura  Hillenbrand


………That month, the Bird's presence at Naoetsu became sporadic. On top of his duty at Naoetsu, he'd been named disciplinary officer for Mitsushima, a camp in the mountains. He arrived there with his trademark flourish, bursting through a door and shouting, "Nanda!" at a group of startled POW officers, demanding to know what they were doing. Immediately, he set to beating the officers day and night. The POWs there called him "the Knob."

The Bird was so vicious at Mitsushima that the POW officers soon concluded that they had to kill him to save themselves. Conspirators formed "murder squads" set on drowning the Bird or hurling him from a cliff. Whenever the Bird was in camp, they stalked him, but he seemed to be on to them, moving about with armed guards. Meanwhile, two POW physicians, Richard Whitfield and Alfred Weinstein, hatched a plan to poison the Bird with massive doses of atropine and morphine.

Again the Bird eluded them: The day after the doctors formed their plan, the Bird had the pharmacy medications locked up. Whitfield devised a new plan. preparing a bottle of saline solution and glucose to serve as a culture medium, he mixed in stool samples from two patients infected with amoebic and bacillary dysentery, tossed in three flies, then stored the bottle next to his skin for several days to incubate the pathogens. He and Weinstein delivered it to the POW cook, who poured it onto the Bird's rice for the better part of a week. To their amazement, the Bird didn't get sick, so the doctors mixed up a new dose, using the stools of six ill POWs. This time, they hit the jackpot.

In two days, the Bird was violently ill, completely incapacitated with rocketing diarrhea and a 105-degree fever. Weinstein found him in his room, crying and "whimpering like a child." The Bird ordered Weinstein to cure him. Weinstein gave him what he said were sulfa pills. Suspicious, the Bird made Weinstein take some of the pills himself. Weinstein took them, knowing that all that was in them was aspirin and baking soda. The Bird lost fifteen pounds in one week. Weinstein urged him to eat his rice.

With the Bird out of the way, the men and even the guards were, wrote Weinstein, "almost hysterically childish" in their delight. But the Bird seemed unmurderable. After ten days, his fever broke. He returned to Naoetsu to take out his rage on the officers and Louie.

By June, Louie's leg was healed, enough to bear his weight, and he was sent back to shovel coal and salt. He was growing ever sicker, and his dysentery never eased. When he appealed for rest while burning up with fever, the Bird refused him. His temperature was only 103, he said; you go to work. Louie went.

One day that month, Louie, Tinker, and Wade were shoveling on a barge when the foreman discovered that fish had been stolen from the galley. The foreman announced that if the thieves didn't turn themselves in, he'd report the theft to the Bird. During a lunch break, the innocent men persuaded the culprits to confess. When the men walked into camp that night, the foreman told the Bird anyway, as he suspected that more men had been in on the theft. The Bird called for the work party to line up before him and ordered the thieves to stand before the group. He then walked down; the line, pulling out Wade, Tinker, Louie, and two other officers and making them stand with the thieves. He announced that these officers were responsible for the behavior of the thieves. His punishment: Each enlisted man would punch each officer and thief in the face, as hard as possible.

The chosen men looked at the line of enlisted men in terror: there were some one hundred of them. Any man who refused to carry out the order, the Bird said, would meet the same fate as the officers and thieves. He told the guards to club any men who didn't strike the chosen men with maximum force.

The enlisted men had no choice. At first, they tried to hit softly, but the Bird studied each blow. When a man didn't punch hard enough, the Bird would begin shrieking and clubbing him, joined by the guards. Then the errant man would be forced to hit the victim repeatedly until the Bird was satisfied. Louie began whispering to each man to get it over with, and hit hard. Some of the British men whispered, "Sorry, sir," before punching Wade.

For the first few punches, Louie stayed on his feet. But his legs soon began to waver, and he collapsed. He pulled himself upright, but fell again with the next punch, and then the next. Eventually, he blacked out. When he came to, the Bird forced the men to resume punching him, screaming, "Next! Next! Next!" In Louie's whirling mind, the voice began to sound like the tramping of feet.

The sun sank. The beating went on for some two hours, the Bird watching with fierce and erotic pleasure. When every enlisted man had done his punching, the Bird ordered the guards to club each one twice in the head with a kendo stick.

The victims had to be carried to the barracks. Louie's face was so swollen that for several days he could barely open his mouth. By Wade's estimate, each man had been punched in the face some 220 times.


June 1945 became July. Every day, a single B-29 crossed over Naoetsu, so high that only the contrails gave it away. The men called it "the Lone Ranger." Every night, bombers passed over in strength, forests of planes brushing over the village. To the POWs, they were a beautiful sight, "all lit up," wrote POW Joe Byrne, "as if they were going to a picnic." Throughout each day and night, the air-raid sirens kept kicking in. Sometimes, at night, the men could hear soft booming in the darkness.

Louie was sick and demoralized. He lay on his plank, daydreaming about the Olympics, holding them before himself as a shining promise, a future for which to endure an unbearable present. He prayed ceaselessly for rescue. His nightmares of his battles with the Bird were hellish, unbearable. His hope was dimming. In his barracks one day, a man dragged in from slave work, looking spent. He lay down, asked to be awakened for dinner, and went still. At chowtime, Louie kicked his foot. The man didn't move. He was dead. He was young, like everyone else, and hadn't even looked sick.

The food situation was increasingly dire. In the spring, with the import of the Kobe and Osaka POWs, the camp population had more than doubled, but the rations had not. Now the rations were smaller still, usually consisting of nothing but seaweed. When a famished prisoner tried to get food from civilians, the Bird broke his jaw. Several POW officers appealed to the authorities for meat; to withhold it, they said, violated international law. After this appeal, two guards left camp and returned with a dog, reportedly the only one left in Naoetsu. The next morning, a bell rang, and Louie walked into the compound. There, impaled on a post facing the POWs, was the dog's skinned head. A few minutes later, the men were served breakfast. In the bowls were the remains of the dog.

As summer stretched on and the rations dwindled, Louie and the other POWs began looking toward winter with dread. They were told that both their rations and the barracks heating fuel were going to be cut more come winter, and might be halted altogether. Many of the men were already so thin and sick that they were, wrote one, "hanging on from day to day." Few POWs, in Naoetsu or anywhere else, thought they'd live to see another spring. At Omori, someone made up a slogan: "Frisco dive in '45 or stiff as sticks in '46."

There was a worry more pressing yet. Even in isolated Naoetsu, it was obvious to the POWs that the Japanese empire was staggering. Watching B-29s crossing over with impunity, they knew that Japan's air defenses had been gutted, and that the Americans were very close. The civilians that they saw were in shocking condition: The limbs of the adults were grotesquely swollen from beriberi; the children were emaciated. The POWs were so disturbed by the obvious famine among the civilians that they stopped stealing at the work sites. It was clear to them that Japan had long ago lost this war.

But Japan was a long way from giving in. If a massively destructive air war would not win surrender, invasion seemed the only possibility. POWs all over the country were noticing worrisome signs. They saw women holding sharpened sticks, practicing lunges at stacks of rice straw, and small children being lined up in front of schools, handed wooden mock guns, and drilled. Japan, whose people deemed surrender shameful, appeared to be preparing to fight to the last man, woman, or child.

Invasion seemed inevitable and imminent, both to the POWs and to the Japanese. Having been warned of the kill-all order, the POWs were terrified. At Borneo's Batu Lintang POW camp, which held two thousand POWs and civilian captives, Allied fighters circled the camp every day. A civilian warned POW G. W. Pringle that "the Japanese have orders no prisoners are to be recaptured by Allied forces. All must be killed." Villagers told of having seen hundreds of bodies of POWs in the jungle. "This then is a forerunner of a fate which must be ours," wrote Pringle in his diary. A notoriously sadistic camp official began speaking of his empathy for the POWs, and how a new camp was being prepared where there was ample food, medical care, and no more forced labor. The POWs knew it was a lie, surely designed to lure them into obeying an order to march that would, as Pringle wrote, "afford the Japs a wonderful opportunity to carry out the Japanese Government order to 'Kill them all.'"

Pringle was right. In the camp office sat written orders, drawn up by the commander and approved by central military authorities, for all captives to be "liquidated" on September 15. Women and children would be poisoned; civilian men would be shot; the sick and disabled would be bayoneted. The five hundred POWs would be marched twenty-one miles into the-jungle, shot, and burned.

At Omori, Japanese kitchen workers, as well as some soldiers, told the POWs that plans for their destruction had been set. The POWs would be turned loose, on the excuse that the guards were needed to defend Japan, and when the men stepped onto the bridge, the guards would mow them down with machine guns. The POW officers met to discuss it, but couldn't come up with any way to prevent it or defend themselves.

At camps across Japan, things looked just as ominous. Machine guns and barrels of accelerant were brought in. Metal dog tags were confiscated, in an apparent effort to comply with the stipulation that those executing POWs "not... leave any traces." Prisoners were ordered to dig tunnels and caverns, and at a number of camps, friendly guards warned POWs that mines, ditches, and tunnels were going to be used as death chambers.

That summer, at Phil and Fred Garrett's camp, Zentsuji, officials suddenly announced that they were separating the Americans from the-other POWs. The officials said that the Americans were being moved to a pleasant new camp, for their safety. The men were loaded onto a train and taken across Japan, through sad rivers of refugees. Peeking past the drawn window blinds, they saw razed cities. The air smelled of burned bodies.

After dark, they reached a remote area. The men were told to begin walking up a nearly impassable trail, winding up the side of a mountain. In a crashing rainstorm, they hiked for hours, through forest, over boulders, and through ravines, climbing so high that the surrounding mountains were capped in snow in summer. Garrett, his stump still unhealed, labored on his crutches, and the Japanese wouldn't allow anyone to help him. Men began fainting from exhaustion, but the Japanese drove the group on, allowing no rest stops. Drenched to the skin, the POWs limped up the path for eleven miles, leaving a trail of discarded possessions as they tried to lighten their loads.

At two in the morning, high on the mountain, Phil, Garrett, and the other POWs reached a collection of wooden shacks in a rocky clearing. Too exhausted to stand in formation, they collapsed. They were told that this was their new camp, Rokuroshi. No one explained why the POWs had been taken so far from anywhere and anyone, to a place that appeared uninhabitable. The POW physician, Hubert Van Peenen, looked about him, considered their situation, and came to a conclusion: This is the place of our extermination.

At Naoetsu that summer, camp officials began speaking of their concern that the POWs could be injured in air raids. For this reason, the officials said, the prisoners were soon going to be taken into the mountains, where they'd be safe. Away from their officers, the guards told a different story, telling the POWs that the army had issued orders to kill them all in August. This might have been dismissed as a lie, but that July, a civilian worker known for his sympathy for POWs warned a prisoner that an execution date had been set. The date he gave was the same as one that had reportedly been mentioned to prisoners in at least two other camps.

All of the Naoetsu POWs, the civilian said, would be killed on August 22.



Keith Hunt