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week, and would limp for weeks more. A doctor confirmed that he had disastrously exacerbated his war injury. It was all over.

——

Louie was wrecked. The quest that had saved him as a kid was lost to him. The last barricade within him fell. By day, he couldn’t stop thinking about the Bird. By night, the sergeant lashed him, hungry and feral. As the belt whipped him, Louie would fight his way to his attacker’s throat and close his hands around it. No matter how hard he squeezed, those eyes still danced at him. Louie regularly woke screaming and soaked in sweat. He was afraid to sleep.

He started smoking again. There seemed no reason not to drink, so each evening, he swigged wine as he cooked, leaving Cynthia sitting through dinner with a tipsy husband. Invitations to clubs kept coming, and now it seemed harmless to accept the free drinks that were always offered. At first he drank just beer; then he dipped into hard liquor. If he got drunk enough, he could drown the war for a time. He soon began drinking so much that he passed out, but he welcomed it; passing out saved him from having to go to bed and wait for his monster. Unable to talk him into giving it up, Cynthia stopped going out with him. He left her alone each night while he went out to lose the war.

Rage, wild, random, and impossible to quell, began to consume him. Once he harassed a man for walking too slowly on a crosswalk in front of his car, and the man spat at him. Louie gunned the car to the curb, jumped out, and, as Cynthia screamed for him to stop, punched the man until he fell to the ground. On another day, when a man at a bar accidentally let a door swing into him, Louie chested up to him and provoked an embarrassing little scuffle that ended with Louie grinding the man’s face in the dirt.

His mind began to derail. While sitting at a bar, he heard a sudden, loud sound, perhaps a car backfiring. Before he knew it, he was on the floor, cringing, as the bar fell silent and the patrons stared. On another night, he was drinking, his mind drifting, when someone nearby yelled something while joking with friends. In Louie’s mind, it was “Keirei!” He found himself jumping up, back straight, head up, heart pounding, awaiting the flying belt buckle. In a moment the illusion cleared and he saw that, again, everyone in the bar was looking at him. He felt foolish and humiliated.

One day Louie was overcome by a strange, inexplicable feeling, and suddenly the war was all around and in him, not a memory but the actual experience—the glaring and grating and stench and howl and terror of it. In a moment he was jerked back out again, confused and frightened. It was his first flashback. After that, if he caught a glimpse of blood or saw a tussle in a bar, everything would reassemble itself as prison camp, and the mood, the light, the sounds, his own body, would all be as they were, inescapable. In random moments, he felt lice and fleas wriggling over his skin when there was nothing there. It only made him drink harder.

Cynthia urged Louie to get help, so he went, reluctantly, to see a counselor at a veterans’ hospital. He spoke of the war and the nightmares, and came home feeling as turbulent as when he’d left. After two or three sessions, he quit.

One day he opened a newspaper and saw a story that riveted his attention. A former Pacific POW had walked into a store and seen one of his wartime captors. The POW had called the police, who’d arrested the alleged war criminal. As Louie read the story, all of the fury within him converged. He saw himself finding the Bird, overpowering him, his fists bloodying the face, and then his hands locking about the Bird’s neck. In his fantasy, he killed the Bird slowly, savoring the suffering he caused, making his tormentor feel all of the pain and terror and helplessness that he’d felt. His veins beat with an electric urgency.

Louie had no idea what had become of the Bird, but he felt sure that if he could get back to Japan, he could hunt him down. This would be his emphatic reply to the Bird’s unremitting effort to extinguish his humanity: I am still a man. He could conceive of no other way to save himself.

Louie had found a quest to replace his lost Olympics. He was going to kill the Bird.


* Returning home to the postwar housing shortage, Weinstein took out a $600,000 loan, built an apartment complex in Atlanta, and offered the 140 family units to veterans at rents averaging less than $50 per month. “Priorities: 1) Ex-POWs; 2) Purple Heart Vets; 3) Overseas Vets; 4) Vets; 5) Civilians,” read his ad. “… We prefer Ex-GI’s, and Marines and enlisted personnel of the Navy. Ex-Air Corps men may apply if they quit telling us how they won the war.” His rule banning KKK members drew threatening phone calls. “I gave them my office and my home address,” Weinstein said, “and told them I still had the .45 I used to shoot carabau [water buffalo] with.”

* As Halloran parachuted over Tokyo, the Zero that had shot him down sped toward him, and Halloran was certain that he was going to be strafed, as so many falling airmen were. But instead of firing, the pilot saluted him. After the war, Halloran and that pilot, Isamu Kashiide, became dear friends.





Thirty-six

The Body on the Mountain


IT WAS THE FIRST WINTER AFTER THE WAR. AN AGED POLICE officer trudged through a village high in the mountains of Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, knocking on doors, asking questions, and moving on. The Ministry of Home Affairs, frustrated at the failure to track down Mutsuhiro Watanabe, was renewing its effort, sending out photographs of and reports on the fugitive to every police chief in Japan. Chiefs were under orders to report twice a month on their progress. Police officers conducted searches and interrogations nearly every day. In one prefecture alone, 9,100 officers were involved in the search for him. The officer in Nagano was part of this effort.

It was around noon when he reached the largest house in the village, home to a farmer and his family. Someone answered the door, and the family, thinking that he was a census taker, invited him in. Inside, the policeman found an old, portly farmer, the farmer’s wife, and their live-in laborer. As the laborer prepared a plate of pickles and a cup of tea, a traditional offering to visitors, the officer pulled out a photograph of Watanabe, dressed in his sergeant’s uniform. Did they recognize the man? None of them did.

The officer left, moving on to a neighbor. He had no idea that the fugitive he was seeking had just been standing right in front of him, holding a plate of pickles.

——

The Bird had come to Nagano Prefecture the previous September, after having fled his brother’s home, then Kofu. Reaching the hot springs resort community of Manza Spa, he’d checked into an inn. He chose an alias, Saburo Ohta, a common name unlikely to attract notice or dwell in anyone’s memory. He had a mustache, which he’d begun growing in the last days of the war. He told people that he was a refugee from Tokyo whose relatives were all dead, a story that, in postwar Japan, was as common as white rice. He vowed to live by two imperatives: silence and patience.

Manza was a good choice, trafficked by crowds in which Watanabe could lose himself. But he soon began to think that he’d be better hidden in the prefecture’s remote mountain regions. He met the old farmer and offered himself as a laborer in exchange for room and board. The farmer took him to his home in the rural village, and Watanabe settled in as a farmhand.

Each night, lying on a straw mat on the farmer’s floor, Watanabe couldn’t sleep. All over Japan, war-crimes suspects had been captured, and were now imprisoned, awaiting trials. He’d known some of these men. They’d be tried, sentenced, some executed. He was free. On the pages on which he poured out his emotions about his plight, Watanabe wrote of feeling guilty when he thought of those soldiers. He also mulled over his behavior toward the POWs, describing himself as “powerful” and “strict when requesting [POWs] to obey the rules.” “Am I guilty?” he wrote. He didn’t answer his question, but he also expressed no remorse. Even as he wrote of his gratitude for the humanity of the farmer who had taken him in, he couldn’t see the parallel with himself and the helpless men who had fallen into his hands.

The radio in the farmer’s house was often on, and each day, Watanabe listened to reports on fugitive war-crimes suspects. He scanned the faces of his hosts as the stories aired, worried that they’d suspect him. The newspapers, too, were full of articles on these fugitives, described as “enemies of human beings.” The pronouncements wounded Watanabe’s feelings. It seemed to him outrageous that the Allies, who “would not forgive,” would oversee trials of Japanese. God alone, he felt, was qualified to judge him. “I wanted to cry out,” he wrote, “ ‘That’s not fair!’ ”

The tension of living incognito wore on him. He was especially wary of the farmer’s wife, whose gaze seemed to convey suspicion. Sleep came so reluctantly that he had to work himself to exhaustion to bring it on. He brooded on the question of whether or not he should surrender.

One night, as the evening’s fire died in the hearth, Watanabe came to the farmer and told him who he was. The farmer listened, his eyes fixed on the fire, his tongue clicking against his false teeth.

“People say to control your mouth, or it brings evil,” the farmer said. “You should be careful of your speech.”

He said nothing else and turned away.

——

As the Bird hid, other men who had abused POWs were arrested, taken to Sugamo Prison, in Tokyo, and tried for war crimes. Roughly 5,400 Japanese were tried by the United States and other nations; some 4,400 were convicted, including 984 given death sentences and 475 given life in prison.* More than 30 Ofuna personnel were convicted and sentenced to a total of roughly 350 years in prison. The thieving cook, Tatsumi “Curley” Hata, was sentenced to twenty years. Masajiro “Shithead” Hirayabashi, who’d beaten countless prisoners and killed Gaga the duck, was given four years. Commander Kakuzo Iida, “the Mummy,” was sentenced to death for contributing to the deaths of five captives. Also convicted was Sueharu Kitamura—“the Quack”—who had mutilated his patients, bludgeoned Harris, and contributed to the deaths of four captives, including one who was carried from Ofuna at the war’s end, hours from death, crying out “Quack” over and over again. Kitamura was sentenced to hang.

Kaname Sakaba, the Omori commander, was given a life sentence. Of the men from Naoetsu, six civilian guards were tried, convicted, and hanged. Seven Japanese soldiers were also convicted: two were hanged, four given life imprisonment with hard labor, and one given twenty years.

The police found Jimmie Sasaki working as a liaison between the Japanese navy and the occupying forces. Ever a fabulist, he told investigators that Ofuna interrogators were “always kind to prisoners,” that he’d never seen a prisoner abused, and that prisoners rarely complained. In questioning, the truth about his position at Ofuna finally emerged. He had not been the chief interrogator, bearing a rank equal to admiral, that he had claimed to be; he’d been only a low-ranking interpreter. This man of ever-shifting allegiances tried to shift them again, speaking of his debt to America and asking if someone could get him a job with the U.S. Army. Instead of a job, he received an indictment, charged with ordering the abuse of several captives, including one who’d been starved and tortured to death. Though the trial testimony seemed to raise enormous doubt as to his guilt, Sasaki was convicted and ultimately sentenced to six years of hard labor.

And so the strange and twisting war journey of Louie’s onetime friend ended in Sugamo Prison, where he was a model prisoner, tending a vegetable garden and a grove of trees. Who Jimmie Sasaki really was—whether artful spy and willing instrument in Japan’s machine of violence or something more innocent—remains a mystery.

——

Of the postwar stories of the men who ran the camps in which Louie had lived, the saddest was that of Yukichi Kano, the Omori private who’d risked everything to protect the POWs and had probably saved several prisoners’ lives. Just after the war’s end was announced, Kano came upon a group of drunken guards stumbling toward the barracks, swords drawn, determined to hack some captured B-29 men to death. Kano and another man planted themselves in the guards’ path and, after a brief scuffle, stopped them. Kano was a hero, but when the Americans came to liberate the camp, two of them tried to rip the insignia off his uniform. Bob Martindale stepped in and gave the Americans a furious dressing-down. Fearing that Kano might be mistakenly accused of war crimes, Martindale and several other POW officers wrote a letter of commendation for him before they went home.

It did no good. Kano was arrested and jailed as a suspected war criminal. Why he was fingered remains unclear. He was mentioned in many POW affidavits and, in every one, was lauded for his kindness. Perhaps the explanation was that his last name was similar to those of two vicious men, Tetsutaro Kato, an Omori official said to have kicked a POW nearly to death, and Hiroaki Kono, the Bird’s acolyte at Naoetsu. Months passed, and Kano languished in prison, frightened and humiliated. He was neither charged nor questioned. He wrote a plaintive letter asking authorities to investigate him so his name could be cleared. “Cross my heart,” he wrote, “I have not done anything wrong.”

In the winter of 1946, Kano was finally cleared, and MacArthur ordered his release. Kano moved to Yokohama and worked for an import-export business. He missed his POW friends, but for years, he didn’t try to contact them. “I thought I should refrain from writing them,” he wrote to Martindale in 1955, “as my letter might make them to remind up the hard days in Omori, which, I am sure, they would like to forget.” Sometime later, he died of cancer.

——

In the mountain village where he was known as Saburo Ohta, Watanabe waited out a bitter winter. The visit from the policeman shook him. After the policeman left, the farmer’s wife eyed Watanabe with what seemed to be recognition. When night fell, Watanabe lay awake, mulling capture and execution.

When summer came, Watanabe was asked to attend the farmer’s son as he toured the country, selling leather straps. The tour would take them through major cities where Watanabe was surely being sought, but he was living on the good graces of the farmer and had to accept. Watanabe donned glasses to obscure his features and headed off, filled with trepidation.

They went to the busy port cities of Akita and Niigata. No one gave Watanabe a second look. As his fear of being discovered eased, he began enjoying himself. The conversation in the cities was dominated by the war, and everyone had an opinion about the conduct of Japanese soldiers, especially those accused of war crimes. People talked of how the hunt for suspected war criminals was being conducted. Watanabe listened intently.

Being out in society made him long to see his family. He thought of how his mother would now be in Tokyo, on her regular summer visit to his sister Michiko’s home. The yearning was overpowering. Watanabe took out the fortune-telling cards that his little sister had given him and dealt himself a hand. The cards told him that if he went to his family, he’d be safe. On a sweltering day at the height of the summer of 1946, he boarded a train for Tokyo.

His timing couldn’t have been worse. The winter’s push to find Watanabe had yielded no clues, and the police were again doubling their efforts. A newly discovered photograph of Watanabe had been copied and distributed, along with a report that described him as a man “known to have perversions” who might be found “wherever there are loose women.” Since Japanese citizens were required to register changes of address, police were ordered to pore over registries in search of men traveling alone. They were instructed to monitor transactions at ration boards and prowl post offices, train and bus stations, taxi stands, ferry landings, mines, black market outlets, dive hotels and lodging houses, and any businesses that might attract a man fluent in French. Probably inspired by the clue that Watanabe might have committed suicide, police moved to investigate all unnatural and unusual deaths since November 1945, especially those in which the deceased person was unidentified. As a homesick Watanabe journeyed out of hiding and into Tokyo, he was walking into the manhunt.

Shizuka Watanabe was sitting in Michiko’s house with two of her other children when the front door swung open and in walked Mutsuhiro. The room fell silent as the startled family members looked at Mutsuhiro and then at one another. Mutsuhiro, emotionally overwhelmed and dizzy from the midday heat, wavered, afraid he would faint. Michiko came in and saw her brother. The family broke into celebration.

For two hours, Mutsuhiro sat with his family, sipping drinks and listening to them tell of being arrested, questioned, followed, and searched. He said nothing of where he’d been, believing that his family would fare better if they didn’t know. As time passed, the family members grew anxious, afraid that the detectives would catch them. They’d been there just two days previously. At two o’clock, Shizuka warned Mutsuhiro that it was the time of day when the detectives usually came to search. Mutsuhiro reassured them that the playing cards had told him that all would be well.

There was shuffling outside. The detectives had arrived. The Watanabes sprang up. Someone tossed Mutsuhiro’s belongings into a closet. Someone else snatched up the cups and dumped them in the sink. Mutsuhiro raced into a tearoom and shut the door. Behind him, he heard footfalls as a group of detectives entered the room that he had just left. He heard them questioning his mother and sister, telling them that if they caught Mutsuhiro, he’d be treated well.

The detectives were just feet away, on the other side of the door. His heart racing, Mutsuhiro tried to decide whether to run or to conceal himself here. The room was tiny, scattered with pillows, but there was a closet. Ever so slowly, he inched open the closet’s sliding door and squeezed inside. He decided not to close the door, fearing that it would make noise. He stood there, a hand clasped over his mouth to smother the sound of his breathing.

The door opened. A detective looked in. “You have plenty of room,” he said to the family. There was a pause as he looked about. If the detective turned his eyes toward the closet, he’d see Mutsuhiro. “It is tidy,” the detective said. The door closed. The detectives left.

Mutsuhiro had wished to stay overnight, but the close call changed his mind. He told his mother that he’d try to see her again in two years. Then he left, walking back, he wrote, “into the lonesome world.”

——

Watanabe returned to the village. The farmer’s son, unable to make a go of his leather strap sales, opened a coffee shop in the village. Watanabe became his waiter.

The farmer approached Watanabe with a proposition. Arranged marriage was still common in Japan, and the farmer had found a match for him. Watanabe was tempted; he was lonely and unhappy, and liked the idea of marrying. But marriage while in his predicament seemed impossible. He said no.

The young woman eventually came to him. When the farmer’s son fell ill, she paid him a visit, and Watanabe, curious, went into the sickroom to see her. He raised the subject of the novel that the farmer’s son was reading, thinking that, he wrote, “if she liked books, she must understand the mind and hardship of human life.” In his notes about the meeting, he didn’t say if she possessed that understanding, but he did seem to like her and thought she would be “a good house-keeper.” Part of him seemed to want to fall for her, and he believed that love “could save my daily life.”

The woman was taken with the attractive waiter, and began lingering in the coffee shop to be near him. He kept his identity secret from her. She began telling her parents about him in hopes of winning their blessing for a wedding. After brooding on her, Watanabe decided that he had to end the relationship. All he told her was that he had “a burden which would make her unhappy.”

With that, he broke with the tenuous existence that he had created in the village. He quit his job and left. He wandered onto a stretch of the Nagano grassland along the Chikuma River and took a job as a cowherd. His inability to control the willful animals exasperated him. He was despondent. At sunset, he lifted his eyes to the majestic Asama volcano, watching a ribbon of smoke unspooling from her upper reaches, the cattle grazing below.

——

In Japan’s Okuchichibu Mountains stands the holy peak of Mitsumine, its sides fleeced in forest, its summit ornamented with an ancient shrine. In the fall of 1946, two bodies were found amid the hollows and spines of the mountain, a pistol lying with them. One was a man, the other a woman. No one knew who they were.

The police went to Shizuka Watanabe and asked her and her family to accompany them to the mountain. The Watanabes were driven up to Mitsumine and, with the help of guides, taken to the bodies. Shizuka looked down at the lifeless form of the young man.

Japanese newspapers ran the sensational story: Mutsuhiro Watanabe, one of Japan’s most wanted men, was dead. He and a woman, probably a lover, had killed themselves.


* Some death sentences were later commuted; 920 men were eventually executed.





Thirty-seven

Twisted Ropes


LOUIE KNEW NOTHING OF THE DEATH OF THE BIRD. WHEN the bodies were found on Mount Mitsumine, he was in Hollywood, falling to pieces. He was drinking heavily, slipping in and out of flashbacks, screaming and clawing through nightmares, lashing out in fury at random moments. Murdering the Bird had become his secret, fevered obsession, and he had given his life over to it. In a gym near his apartment, he spent hours slamming his hatred into a punching bag, preparing his body for the confrontation that he believed would save him. He walked around every day with murder in his head.

Throughout 1947 and 1948, Louie jumped headlong into scheme after scheme to raise the money to get back to Japan. When Cynthia’s brother Ric visited, he found Louie encircled by fawners and hangers-on, all trying to exploit him. One of them talked Louie into investing $7,000 in a plan to purchase and resell earthmoving equipment in the Philippines, promising to double his money. Louie signed the check, and that was the last he saw of either the investor or his money. He formed a Tahitian passenger-boat company in partnership, but creditors took the boat. A deal to found a movie production company in Egypt met a similar end. He even considered working as a mercenary bombardier in an attempted coup in a small Caribbean country, and was still thinking it over when the coup was called off. He and a partner made a verbal agreement with Mexican officials, giving them sole authority to issue fishing licenses to Americans. As his partner drove down to ink the deal, a truck hit him head-on, and the deal died with him. Each time Louie got some money together, it was lost in another failed venture, and his return to Japan had to be put off still longer.

Drinking granted him a space of time in which to let it all go. Slowly, inexorably, he’d gone from drinking because he wanted it to drinking because he needed it. In the daytime, he kept sober, but in the evenings, as the prospect of sleep and nightmares loomed, he was overcome by the need. His addiction was soon so consuming that when he and Cynthia went to Florida to visit her family, he insisted on bringing home so much liquor that he had to take out his Chevy’s back seat to fit it all in.

He had become someone he didn’t recognize. One night at a bar on Sunset Boulevard, he parked himself on a stool, drank all evening, and wound up stinking drunk. A man passed behind him, ushering his date past. Louie swung around, reached out, and groped the woman’s bottom. The next thing Louie knew, he was on his feet, outside, being half-carried by a friend. His jaw was thumping with pain, and his friend was chewing him out. He slowly came to understand that the woman’s boyfriend had knocked him unconscious.

On another night, he left Cynthia at home and went to a restaurant in Hollywood with two friends from his running days. Sometime in the early evening, after drinking what he would remember as only a single beer, he felt oddly light and excused himself to step outside. Then time broke into disconnected segments. He was in his car, driving, with no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there. He wove through the streets, disoriented, and came into a hilly neighborhood of mansions and broad lawns. His head spun round and round. He stopped the car and rolled out. There was a tree in front of him, and he relieved himself against it.

When he turned back for his car, he couldn’t find it. He stumbled along in a soupy darkness and mental fog, searching in vain for something familiar. He walked all night long, scared, lost, and vainly grasping at lucidity.

As sunrise lit up his surroundings, he realized that he was standing in front of his apartment building. Opening the door, he saw Cynthia, frantic with worry. He toppled into bed. When he woke up and dressed, he had no memory of the night before, and couldn’t understand why the heels of his new shoes were worn down. He went outside and looked around, but he couldn’t find his car, so he called the police and reported it stolen. Two days later, the police called to tell him that they’d found the car in a wealthy neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills. He went up to where they had found it, and memories of his night came back to him, carrying the ethereal quality of a nightmare.