From the book UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand
ON A JUNE DAY IN 1954, JUST OFF A WINDING ROAD in California's San Gabriel Mountains, a mess of boys tumbled out of a truck and stood blinking in the sunshine. They were quick-fisted, hard-faced boys, most of them intimately familiar with juvenile hall and jail. Louie stood with them, watching them get the feel of earth without pavement, space without walls. He felt as if he were watching his own youth again.
So opened the great project of Louie's life, the nonprofit Victory Boys Camp. Beginning with only an idea and very little money, Louie had found a campsite where the bargain-basement rent compensated for the general dilapidation, then talked a number of businesses into donating materials. He'd spent two years manning backhoes, upending boulders, and digging a swimming pool. When he was done, he had a beautiful camp.
Victory became a tonic for lost boys. Louie took in anyone, including one boy so ungovernable that Louie had to be deputized by a sheriff to gain custody of him. He took the boys fishing, swimming, horseback riding, camping, and, in winter, skiing. He led them on mountain hikes, letting them talk out their troubles, and rappelled down cliffs beside them. He showed them vocational films, living for the days when a boy would see a career depicted and whisper, "That's what I want to do!" Each evening, Louie sat with the boys before a campfire, telling them about his youth, the war, and the road that had led him to peace. He went easy on Christianity, but laid it before them as an option. Some were convinced, some not, but either way, boys who arrived at Victory as ruffians often left it renewed and reformed. When he wasn't with his campers, Louie was happily walking the world, telling his story to rapt audiences in everything from grade school classrooms to stadiums. Improbably, he was particularly fond of speaking on cruise ships, sorting through invitations to find a plum voyage, kicking back on the first-class deck with a cool drink in hand, and revelling in the ocean. Concerned that accepting fat honoraria would discourage schools and small groups from asking him to speak, he declined anything over modest fees. He made just enough money to keep Cissy and her little brother, Luke, in diapers, then blue jeans, then college. On the side, he worked in the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, supervising the senior center.
Over the years, he received an absurd number of awards and honors. Lomita Flight Strip, which had been renamed Zamperini Field while Louie was languishing in Naoetsu, was rededicated to him not once more, but twice. A plaza at USC was named after him, as was the stadium at Torrance High. In 1980, someone named a great big barge of a racehorse after him, though as a runner, Zamperini was no Zamperini. The house on Gramercy became a historic landmark. Louie was chosen to carry the Olympic torch before five different Games. So many groups would clamor to give him awards that he'd find it difficult to fit everyone in.
His body gave no quarter to age or punishment. In time, even his injured leg healed. When Louie was in his sixties, he was still climbing Cahuenga Peak every week and running a mile in under six minutes. In his seventies, he discovered skateboarding. At eighty-five, he returned to Kwajalein on a project, ultimately unsuccessful, to locate the bodies of the nine marines whose names had been etched in the wall of his cell. "When I get old," he said as he tossed a football on the Kwajalein beach, "I'll let you know." When he was ninety, his neighbors looked up to see him balancing high in a tree in his yard, chain saw in hand. "When God wants me, he'll take me," he told an incredulous Pete. "Why the hell are you trying to help him?" Pete replied. Well into his tenth decade of life, between the occasional broken bone, he could still be seen perched on skis, merrily cannonballing down mountains.
He remained infectiously, incorrigibly cheerful. He once told a friend that the last time he could remember being angry was some forty years before. His conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him a laughing equanimity even in hard times. In late 2008, when he was about to turn ninety-two, he was moving a slab of concrete on a dolly down a flight of stairs when the dolly wheels broke, sending Louie and the concrete crashing down the steps. He wound up in the hospital with a minor hip fracture and a shattered thumb. As his daughter came down the hospital corridor toward his room, she heard shouts of "Hey Louie!" from the crowd of friends that her father had made among the hospital staff. "I never knew anyone," Pete once said, "who didn't love Louie." As soon as he was out of the hospital, Louie went on a three-mile hike.
With the war over, Phil became Allen again. After a brief stint running a plastics business in Albuquerque, he and Cecy moved to his boyhood hometown, La Porte, Indiana, where they eventually took jobs at a junior high, Allen teaching science, Cecy teaching English. They were soon parents to a girl and a boy.
Allen hardly ever mentioned the war. His friends kept their questions to themselves, fearful of treading upon a painful place. Other than the scars on his forehead from the Green Hornet crash, only his habits spoke of what he'd been through. After having lived for weeks on raw albatross and tern, he rarely ate poultry. He had a curious affinity for eating food directly out of cans, cold. And the onetime king hot dog of his squadron wouldn't go near an airplane. As the jet age overtook America, he stayed in his car. Only many years later, when his daughter lost her husband in an auto accident, did he brave the air to go to her.
He never returned to Japan, and he seemed, outwardly, free of resentment. The closest thing to it was the flicker of irritation that people thought they saw in him when he was, almost invariably, treated as a trivial footnote in what was celebrated as Louie's story. If he was rubbed wrong by it, he bore it graciously. In 1954, when the TV program This Is Your Life feted Louie and presented him with a gold watch, a movie camera, a Mercury station wagon, and a thousand dollars, Allen traveled to California to join Louie's family and friends on stage, wearing a neat bow tie and looking at the floor as he spoke. When the group posed together, Allen slipped to the back.
As Allen grew old, he settled into retired life with Cecy. He walked quite a few back nines, changed his rooting interests from the Sox to the Cubs, and spent whole days just sitting in silence. "Dad must have swung a thousand miles on that front porch swing," said his daughter, Karen Loomis. "What he was thinking, I don't know."
In the 1990s, diabetes and heart disease converged on him. In 1998, a few months before he died, he was moved to an assisted living facility. When the staff learned his war story, they scheduled an event to honor him. It was probably the first time that what he'd done during the war was publicly recognized not simply in reference to Louie, but for its own sake. For the only time in his life, Allen became an open book. As people gathered to listen to his story, spellbound, Karen saw a lovely light come to her father's face. There was, she said, "a little grin underneath."
The men who had befriended Louie in captivity found their way back into civilian life. Some flourished; some struggled for the rest of their lives. There was one terrible loss.
Bill Harris ended the war in grand style, plucked from Omori to stand on the Missouri as Japan surrendered. His singular intellectual acuity, lost in the beatings from the Quack, returned to him. He went home, fell irretrievably in love with a navy captain's daughter, married her, and became a doting father to two little girls. After leaning toward retirement, he opted to stay with the marines, rising to lieutenant colonel. He and Louie sent letters back and forth, laying plans to see each other one day soon.
In September 1950, Harris was driving down a highway when the police pulled him over. He was being called to command a battalion in Korea and had to leave the next day. Before he left, he told his wife that if his luck went bad, he wouldn't allow himself to be captured again.
Before dawn on December 7, 1950, Harris stood on a frozen Korean mountain with his weary battalion, which had seen such horrendous fighting that it had lost three-quarters of its men. That morning, it was serving as the rear guard for a convoy. As the convoy crossed an open area in the dark, a vast, entrenched Chinese force ambushed it from point-blank range. What Harris did next became Marine Corps legend. He gathered his men and, under murderous fire, led them straight at the Chinese. They took heavy casualties but held the Chinese off long enough for the convoy to escape.
When dawn came, no one could find Harris. The last time anyone had seen him, he'd been heading up a road, carrying two rifles. His men searched for hours but found no trace of him. They concluded that he'd again been captured.
For his actions that night, Harris won the Navy Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor. General Clifton Cates kept the medal in his desk in hopes that Harris would come home to receive it. He would not. Thirty-two-year-old William Harris was never seen again. When America's Korean War POWs were released, none of them reported having seen him. He was simply gone.
Many years later, Harris's family received a box of bones, apparently returned by North Korea. The remains inside were said to match those of Harris, but the reports were so incomplete that the family was never sure if it was really Bill whom they buried in a church cemetery in Kentucky. What actually happened on that morning in 1950 remains unknown.
After the war, Pete married a Kansas City beauty named Doris, had three kids, and devoted his life to the work he'd been born to do. He coached football at Torrance High, winning the league championship, then moved on to Banning High, in Wilmington, to coach track and football. In thirty years of Banning track, he had only one losing season. Coach Zamperini was so beloved that upon his retirement in 1977, he was feted by eight hundred people on the Queen Mary.
"I'm retired; my wife is just tired," Pete used to say, and he loved the motto so much that he had it printed on his business cards. But in truth, retirement never really took. At ninety, Pete had the littlest kids in his neighborhood in training, fashioning dumbbells out of old cans, just as his dad had done for Louie. He'd lead the kids onto his sidewalk and cheer them on through sprints, handing out a dime for each race run, a quarter for a personal best.
Pete was more troubled by Louie's war experience than Louie was. In 1992, he served as escort for a group of students on an ocean fishing trip. Though the vessel was a spanking new, ninety-foot ship, the prospect of being at sea terrified Pete. He showed up with a ridiculously comprehensive assortment of safety items, including a heavy-duty plastic bag to use as a flotation device, a floatable flashlight, a six-foot lanyard, a whistle, and a pocketknife, which he imagined flailing at any sharks who tried to eat him. He spent the trip staring ambivalently at the water.
At the end of his life, Pete remained as dedicated to Louie as he'd been in boyhood. He assembled a scrapbook thick with clippings and photographs of Louie's life, and would happily give up his afternoons to talk about his brother, once spending nearly three hours on the phone with a reporter while sitting in a bath towel. At ninety, he still remembered the final times of Louie's races, to the fifth of a second, three-quarters of a century after Louie had run them. Like Payton Jordan, who went on to coach the 1968 U.S. Olympic track and field team, Pete never stopped believing that Louie could have run a four-minute mile long before Roger Bannister became the first man to do it, in 1954. Many decades after the war, Pete was still haunted by what Louie had endured. When describing Louie's wartime ordeal to an audience gathered to honor his brother, Pete faltered and broke down. It was some time before he could go on.
On a May day in 2008, a car pulled to a stop before Pete's house in San Clemente, and Louie stepped out. He had come to say good-bye to his brother; Pete had melanoma, and it had spread to his brain. Their younger sister Virginia had died a few weeks before; Sylvia and Payton Jordan would follow months later. Cynthia, as gorgeous and headstrong as ever, had succumbed to cancer in 2001, drifting off as Louie pressed his face to hers, whispering, "I love you." Louie, declared dead more than sixty years earlier, would outlive them all.
Pete was on his bed, eyes closed. Louie sat beside him. Softly, he began to talk of his life with Pete, tracing the paths they had taken since pneumonia had brought them to California in 1919. The two ancient men lingered together as they had as boys, lying side by side on their bed, waiting for the Graf Zeppelin. Louie spoke of what a feral boy he had once been, and all that Pete had done to rescue him. He told of the cascade of good things that had followed Pete's acts of devotion, and the bountiful lives that he and Pete had found in guiding children. All of those kids, Louie said, "are part of you, Pete."
Pete's eyes opened and, with sudden clarity, rested on the face of his little brother for the last time. He couldn't speak, but he was beaming.
In the fall of 1996, in an office in the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, a telephone rang. Louie, then a nudge short of eighty, picked up the receiver.
The voice on the telephone belonged to Draggan Mihailovich, a producer for CBS television. The 1998 Winter Olympics had been awarded to Nagano, and Louie had accepted an invitation to run the torch past Naoetsu. Mihailovich was filming a profile of Louie, to be aired during the Olympics, and had gone to Japan to prepare. While chatting with a man over a bowl of noodles, he had made a startling discovery.
Mihailovich asked Louie if he was sitting down. Louie said yes. Mihailovich told him to grab hold of his chair.
"The Bird is alive."
Louie nearly hit the floor.
The dead man had walked out of the darkness late one night in 1952. He'd been gone for nearly seven years. Watanabe stepped off a train in Kobe, walked through the city, and stopped before a house with a garden bisected by a stone path. Before his disappearance, his mother had spent part of each year living in this house, but Watanabe had been gone for so long that he didn't know if she came here anymore. He strode about, searching for a clue. Under the gate light, he saw her name.
In all the time in which he'd been thought dead, Watanabe had been hiding in the countryside. He'd spent the previous summer pedalling through villages on a bicycle fitted with a cooler, selling ice cream, envying the children who played around him. When summer had ended, he'd gone back to farm work, tending rice paddies. Then, one day in March 1952, as he read a newspaper, his eyes had paused over a story. The arrest order for suspected war criminals had been lifted. There on the page was his name.
The lifting of the apprehension order was the result of an unlikely turn in history. Immediately after the war, there was a worldwide outcry for punishment of the Japanese who had abused POWs, and the war-crimes trials began. But new political realities soon emerged. As American occupiers worked to help Japan transition to democracy and independence, the Cold War was beginning. With communism wicking across the Far East, America's leaders began to see a future alliance with Japan as critical to national security. The sticking point was the war-crimes issue; the trials were intensely unpopular in Japan, spurring a movement seeking the release of all convicted war criminals. With the pursuit of justice for POWs suddenly in conflict with America's security goals, something had to give.
(AND SO SILLY AMERICA GOT SENTIMENTAL, WITH FEARING THE BEAR - RUSSIA, NOT KNOWING BIBLE PROPHECY, THEY WERE SCARED ENOUGH TO GIVE IN TO BRASH JAPAN - Keith Hunt)
On December 24, 1948, as the occupation began to wind down, General MacArthur declared a "Christmas amnesty" for the last seventeen men awaiting trial for Class A war crimes, the designation for those who had guided the war. The defendants were released, and some would go on to great success; onetime defendant Nobusuke Kishi, said to be responsible for forcibly conscribing hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Koreans as laborers, would become prime minister in 1957. Though American officials justified the release by saying that it was unlikely that the defendants would have been convicted, the explanation was questionable; more than two dozen Class A defendants had been tried, and all had been convicted. Even in Japan, it was commonly believed that many of the released men were guilty.
(AND SILLY WEAK-MINDED AMERICA BOWED TO JAPAN, BECAUSE THE BIG RUSSIAN BEAR POSED A THREAT, SO THEY THOUGHT - Keith Hunt)
Ten months later, the trials of Class B and C defendants—those accused of ordering or carrying out abuse or atrocities-—were ended. An army officer named Osamu Satano was the last man tried by the United States. His punishment fit the reconciliatory mood; convicted of beheading an airman, he was sentenced to just five years. In early 1950, MacArthur ruled that war criminals' sentences would be reduced for good behavior, and those serving life sentences would be eligible for parole after fifteen years. Then, in 1951, the Allies and Japan signed the Treaty of Peace, which would end the occupation. The treaty waived the right of former POWs and their families to seek reparations from Japan and Japanese companies that had profited from their enslavement.* Finally, in March 1952, just before the treaty took effect and the occupation ended, the order for apprehension of fugitive war criminals was lifted. Though Watanabe was on the fugitive fist, hardly anyone believed that he was still alive.
(DO YOU SEE THE CRAZY WEAK MENTALITY OF THE USA…. JUSTICE WAS BEING PUT TO ONE SIDE…… PEOPLE, A NATION, WAS BEING RELEASED FROM THE PENALTY IT DESERVED TO PAY FOR ATROCITIES YOU HAVE BEEN READING ABOUT….. I SHAKE MY HEAD TO THE WEAK MINDED LEADERS OF THE USA AT THAT TIME - Keith Hunt)
When he saw the story, Watanabe was wary. Afraid that the police had planted the story as a trap, he didn't go home. He spent much of the spring working as a fishmonger, all the while wondering if he was free. Finally, he decided to sneak back to his mother.
Watanabe rang the bell, but no one answered. He rang again, longer, and heard footfalls on the garden stones. The gate swung open, and there was the face of his youngest brother, whom he hadn't seen
* America's War Crimes Acts of 1948 and 1952 awarded, each former POW $1 for each day of imprisonment if he could prove that he wasn't given the amount and quality of food mandated by the Geneva Convention, and $1.50-per day if he could prove that he'd been subjected to inhumane treatment and/or hard labor. This made for a maximum benefit of $1.50 per day. Under the Treaty of Peace, $12.6 million in Japanese assets were distributed to POWs, but because America's POWs had already received meager War Crimes Acts payments, first claim on the assets was given to other nations.
(AGAIN I SHAKE MY HEAD IN WONDERMENT OF THE WEAK MENTALITY OF THE USA LEADERS - Keith Hunt)
since the latter was a boy. His brother threw his arms around him, then pulled him into the house, singing out, "Mucchan's back!"
Mutsuhiro Watanabe's flight was over. In his absence, many of his fellow camp guards and officials had been convicted of war crimes. Some had been executed. The others wouldn't be in prison for long. In keeping with the American effort to reconcile with Japan, all of them, including those serving life sentences, would soon be paroled. It appears that even Sueharu Kitamura, "the Quack," was set free, in spite of his death sentence. By 1958, every war criminal who had not been executed would be free, and on December 30 of that year, all would be granted amnesty. Sugamo would be torn down, and the epic ordeals of POWs in Japan would fade from the world's memory.
(SHOCKING, JUST DISGUSTINGLY SHOCKING, AND SHAMEFUL ON THE PART OF THE USA - Keith Hunt)
Watanabe would later admit that in the beginning of his life in exile, he had pondered the question of whether or not he had committed any crime. In the end, he laid the blame not on himself but on "sinful, absurd, insane war." He saw himself as a victim. If he had tugs of conscience over what he'd done, he shrugged them away by assuring himself that the lifting of the fugitive-apprehension order was a personal exoneration.
(JUST AS MAD AND INSANE AFTER THE WAR AS IN THE WAR - Keith Hunt)
"I was just in a great joy of complete release and liberation," he wrote in 1956, "that I was not guilty."
(TO HIS SICK MIND HE WAS NOT GUILTY - Keith Hunt)
Watanabe married and had two children. He opened an insurance agency in Tokyo, and it reportedly became highly profitable. He lived in a luxury apartment worth a reported $1.5 million, and kept a vacation home on Australia's Gold Coast.
(SEE THE RESULT OF WEAK-MINDED AMERICA ON WAR-CRIMINALS, SHAMEFUL, WORDS ESCAPE ME - Keith Hunt)
Almost everyone who knew of his crimes believed he was dead. By his own account, Watanabe visited America several times, but he apparently didn't encounter any former POWs. Then, in the early 1980s, an American-military officer visiting Japan heard something about the Bird being alive. In 1991, Bob Martindale was told that a Japanese veteran had spotted a man he thought was Watanabe at a sports event. Among the other POWs, few, if any, heard of this. Louie remained in ignorance, convinced that the Bird had killed himself decades earlier.
In the summer of 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of his flight from Naoetsu, Watanabe was seventy-seven years old. His hair had grayed; his haughty bearing had bent. He seemed to be close to concluding his life without publicly confronting his past. But that year, he was at last ready to admit that he had abused men. Perhaps he truly felt guilty.
Perhaps, as he approached his death, he had a troubling sense that he'd be remembered as a fiend and wished to dispel that notion. Or perhaps he was motivated by the same vanity that had consumed him in war-time, and hoped to use his vile history, and his victims, to draw attention to himself, maybe even win admiration for his contrition. That summer, when London Daily Mail reporter Peter Hadfield came calling, Watanabe let him in.
Sitting in his apartment, his pawlike hand clutching a crystal wine glass, he finally spoke about the POWs.
"I understand their bitterness, and they may wonder why I was so severe," he said. "But now my feeling is I want to apologize. A deep, deep apology ... I was severe. Very severe."
He made a fist and waved it past his chin. "If the former prisoners want, I would offer to let them come here and hit me, to beat me."
(SPEAKING AS FROM THE WORLD, MAYBE MANY SHOULD HAVE ACCEPTED HIS OFFER - Keith Hunt)
He claimed that he'd used only his hands to punish POWs, an assertion that would have riled the men who'd been kicked, clubbed with his kendo stick and baseball bat, and whipped in the face with his belt. He said that he'd only been trying to teach the POWs military discipline, and asserted that he'd been acting under orders. "If I had been better educated during the war, I think I would have been kinder, more friendly," he said. "But I was taught that the POWs had surrendered, and this was a shameful thing for them to have done. I knew nothing about the Geneva Convention. I asked my commanding officer about it, and he said, 'This is not Geneva, this is Japan.'
(STUPID EXCUSES; ANY NORMAL MENTAL BRAIN SHOULD HAVE USED SOME COMMON LOGIC, THAT TO BEAT PEOPLE AS HE DID WAS SATANTIC AND FAR FROM DECENTLY HUMANE - Keith Hunt)
"There were two people inside me," he continued. "One that followed military orders, and the other that was more human. At times I felt I had a good heart, but Japan at that time had a bad heart. In normal times I never would have done such things.
"War is a crime against humanity," he concluded. "I'm glad our prime minister apologized for the war, but I can't understand why the government as a whole doesn't apologize. We have a bad cabinet."
(TWO PEOPLE INSIDE HIM? YA….HOW ABOUT SOME DEMONS, WITH SOME OF THEM MORE BRUTAL THAN OTHERS - Keith Hunt)
After the interview, a Daily Mail reporter tracked down Tom Wade and told him that Watanabe had asked for forgiveness. "I accept his apology and wish him contentment in his declining years," Wade said. "It's no good hanging on to the hatred after so long."
Asked if he'd like to accept Watanabe's offer to let the POWs beat him, Wade said no, then reconsidered.
"I might just have one good blow," he said.
(AND YA MANY OTHERS ALSO, LOOKING AT IT FROM THE JUSTICE OF THE WORLD - Keith Hunt)
The Daily Mail article apparently ran only in England. It wasn't until almost a year later that Louie learned that Watanabe still lived. His first reaction was to say that he wanted to see him.
In the decades after the war, the abandoned Naoetsu campsite decayed, and the village residents didn't speak of what had transpired there. Over time, the memory was largely lost. But in 1978, a former POW wrote a letter to teachers at Naoetsu High School, beginning a dialogue that introduced many locals to the tragedy that had taken place in their village. Ten years later, former POW Frank Hole journeyed back to the village, which had joined another village to form Joetsu City. He planted three eucalyptus seedlings outside city hall and gave city leaders a plaque in memory of the sixty Australians who had died in the camp.
As they learned the POWs' stories, Joetsu residents responded with sympathy. Residents formed a group dedicated to building a peace park to honor the dead POWs and bring reconciliation. Among the founding members was Shoichi Ishizuka, a veteran who'd been held as a POW by the Americans and treated so kindly, that he referred to the experience as "lucky prison life." When he learned what his Allied counterparts had endured in his own village, he was horrified. A council was formed, fund-raising began, and exhibits were erected in town. If the plan succeeded, Joetsu would become, among the ninety-one cities in Japan in which POW camps once stood, the first to create a memorial to the POWs who had suffered and died there.
Though 85 percent of Joetsu residents donated to the park fund, the plan generated heated controversy. Some residents fought the plan vehemently, calling in death threats and vowing to tear down the memorial and burn supporters' homes. In keeping with the goal of reconciliation, the memorial council sought the participation of relatives of the guards who'd been convicted and hanged, but the families balked, fearing ostracism. To honor the grief of families on both sides of the war, the council proposed creating a single cenotaph for both the POWs and the hanged guards, but this deeply offended the former POWs. At one point, the plan was nearly given up.
Eventually, the spirit of reconciliation prevailed. In October 1995, on the site of the former Naoetsu camp, the peace park was dedicated. The focal point was a pair of statues of angels, flying above a cenotaph in which rested Hole's plaque. In a separate cenotaph a few yards away was a plaque in memory of the eight hanged guards. At the guards' families' request, no names were inscribed on it, only a simple phrase: Eight stars in the peaceful sky.
(WELL AT LEAST SOMETHING TO REMEMBER AND HONOR THE POWs AND HOW JAPAN TREATED THEM WAS DONE…..I WONDER IF ANY OF ALL THIS IS IN THE HISTORY TEXT BOOKS OF SCHOOLS IN JAPAN - Keith Hunt)
In early 1997, CBS TV's Draggan Mihailovich arrived in Tokyo to search for Watanabe, armed with an address and a phone number. CBS's Japanese bureau chief called the number and reached Watanabe's wife, who said that her husband couldn't speak to them—he was gravely ill and bedridden. Mihailovich had the bureau chief call again to convey his wishes for Watanabe's recovery. His wishes did the trick: Mrs. Watanabe said that her husband had left the country on business and she didn't know when he'd return.
Seeing that he was being dodged, Mihailovich staked out Watanabe's apartment building and office. He waited for hours; Watanabe didn't appear. Just as Mihailovich was losing hope, his cell phone rang, Watanabe had returned the bureau chief's call. Told that the producers had a message from Louis Zamperini, Watanabe had agreed to meet them at a Tokyo hotel.
Mihailovich rented a room at the hotel and set up a camera crew inside. Doubting that Watanabe would agree to a sit-down interview, he rigged his cameraman with a tiny camera inside a baseball cap. At the appointed hour, in walked the Bird.
They sat down in the lobby, and Watanabe ordered a beer. Mihailovich explained that they were profiling Louis Zamperini. Watanabe knew the name immediately. "Six hundred prisoner," he said. "Zamperini number one."
Bob Simon, CBS's on-air correspondent for the story, thought that this would probably be his only chance to question Watanabe, so there in the lobby, he began grilling him about his treatment of Louie. Watanabe was startled. He said something about Zamperini being a good man, and how he—Watanabe—hated war. He said that his central concern had been protecting the POWs, because if they had escaped, civilians would have killed them. Asked why he'd been on the list of most wanted war criminals, he puffed with apparent pride. "I'm number seven," he said. "Tojo number one." Exile, he said, had been very painful for him.
They asked Watanabe if he'd come upstairs for an on-camera interview. Watanabe asked if the interview would air in Japan, and Mihailovich said no. To Mihailovich's surprise, Watanabe agreed.
Upstairs, with cameras rolling, they handed Watanabe a photograph of a youthful Louie, standing on a track, smiling. Simon dug in.
"Zamperini and the other prisoners remember you, in particular, being the most brutal of all the guards. How do you explain that?"
Watanabe's fight eyelid began drooping. Mihailovich felt uneasy.
"I wasn't given military orders," Watanabe said, contradicting the assertion he'd made in the 1995 interview. "Because of my personal feelings, I treated the prisoners strictly as enemies of Japan. Zamperini was well known to me. If he says he was beaten by Watanabe, then such a thing probably occurred at the camp, if you consider my personal feelings at the time."
He tossed his head high, jutted out his chin, and directed a hard gaze at Simon. He said that the POWs had complained of "trifle things" and had used epithets to refer to the Japanese. These things, he said, had made him angry. With hundreds of prisoners, he said, he'd been under great pressure.
"Beating and kicking in Caucasian society are considered cruel. Cruel behavior," he said, speaking very slowly. "However, there were some occasions in the prison camp in which beating and kicking were unavoidable."
When the interview was over, Watanabe looked shaken and angry. Told that Zamperini was coming to Japan and wanted to meet him to offer his forgiveness, Watanabe replied that he would see him and apologize, on the understanding that it was only a personal apology, not one offered on behalf of the Japanese military.
(AND SO THE TWISTED MIND-SET OF THE "BIRD" CONTINUED - Keith Hunt)
As they packed up, Mihailovich had a last request. Would he agree to be filmed walking down the street? This, it seemed, was what Watanabe had come for. He donned his cap, stepped to the sidewalk, turned, and walked toward the camera. He moved just as he had in parades before his captives, head high, chest thrust out, eyes imperious.
(AGAIN THE SICK TWISTED-UP MIND OF HOW MAD MEN OFTEN THINK - Keith Hunt)
One day nine months later, as he prepared to return to Japan to carry the Olympic torch, Louie sat at his desk for hours, thinking. Then he clicked on his computer and began to write.
To Matsuhiro [sic] Watanabe,
As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate with a vengeance. Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war's end. The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, "Forgive your enemies and pray for them." As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952[sic] and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison ... I asked then about you, and was told that you probably had committed Hara Kiri, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that.you would also become a Christian.
He folded the letter and carried it with him to Japan. The meeting was not to be. CBS contacted Watanabe and told him that Zamperini wanted to come see him. Watanabe practically spat his reply: The answer was no.
When Louie arrived in Joetsu, he still had his letter. Someone took it from him, promising to get it to Watanabe. If Watanabe received it, he never replied.
Watanabe died in April 2003.
On the morning of January 22, 1998, snow sifted gently over the village once known as Naoetsu. Louis Zamperini, four days short of his eighty-first birthday, stood in a swirl of white beside a road flanked in bright drifts. His body was worn and weathered, his skin scratched with lines mapping the miles of his life. His old riot of black hair was now a translucent scrim of white, but his blue eyes still threw sparks. On the ring finger of his right hand, a scar was still visible, the last mark that Green Hornet had left in the world.
At last, it was time. Louie extended his hand, and in it was placed the Olympic torch. His legs could no longer reach and push as they once had, but they were still sure beneath him. He raised the torch, bowed, and began running.
All he could see, in every direction, were smiling Japanese faces.
There were children peeking out of hooded coats, men who had once worked beside the POW slaves in the steel mill, civilians snapping photographs, clapping, waving, cheering Louie on, and Japanese soldiers, formed into two columns, parting to let him pass. Louie ran through the place where cages had once held him, where a black-eyed man had crawled inside him. But the cages were long gone, and so was the Bird. There was no trace of them here among the voices, the falling snow, and the old and joyful man, running.
WELL WHAT AN AMAZING TRUE STORY. AMAZING FOR LOUIS ZAMPERINI; UNBROKEN IN JAPAN; BROKEN AFTER THE WAR; BUT HEALED THROUGH GOD AND CHRIST; ONCE MORE UNBROKEN. WHAT A STORY!
TERRIBLE WAS THE STORY OF JAPANESE CRUELTY TO POWs - IT WILL AND IT MUST GO DOWN IN HISTORY; IT HAS ON THIS WEBSITE, FOR THE DAY MAY COME WHEN THE HISTORY TEXTBOOKS IN JAPAN MAY NEVER SAY MUCH ABOUT IT. A PEOPLE DECEIVED BY THEIR OWEN VANITY, NEVER HAVING LOST A WAR. BROUGHT DOWN TO A DESTRUCTION BY THE BOMBS OF THE USA, INCLUDING TWO ATOMIC BOMBS. SADLY HAVING TO GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS ABOUT DESTROYED AS ANY NATION HAS EVER BEEN.
MASTERFUL RESEARCH AND WRITING BY LAURA HILLENBRAND - Keith Hunt