The only visible remnants of the Ofuna Naval Interrogation Center, which stood across the street from where the Buddhist temple of Ryuhoji is now, are pieces of a watchtower peeking out of the grass and dirt in a family’s yard.
“The place has changed so much that it really doesn’t remind me of Ofuna as I knew it,” said Charles Brown, 91.
Brown, a World War II naval aviator, says he might feel differently if the tunnel he was marched through on the way to his first month of solitary confinement was still visible.
Brown and William Connell, 91, both of whom were prisoners at Ofuna, are among five former World War II prisoners touring several sites and meeting with Japanese citizens this week as part of a trip financed by the Japanese government.
As aviators, they weren’t treated like the other prisoners; Once out of solitary confinement, guards separated them from the other POWs and wouldn’t let them speak to their countrymen.
“We were considered criminals because we bombed the [Japanese] homeland,” Brown said.
Brown, a resident of Kingwood, W.Va, and Scott Downing, 96, of Amarillo, Texas, toured the temple’s ornate halls and displays Monday, along with a few family members and translators. The temple’s head monk then guided them to a small room in the back, where the remains of Japanese soldiers lie in wooden boxes next to a shrine for the former prisoners of war.
It took Brown 50 years to tell his story to his family and others. He said he was inspired by author and former news anchor Tom Brokaw’s effort to document WWII history. Sharing his experiences helped him get over nightmares, he said.
The group includes Downing, who would later work as an interrogator for Japanese suspected of Class C war crimes; Connell, of Edina, Minn.; Fiske Hanley II, 95, a former Army officer from Fort Worth, Texas; and, Donald Ryan, 93, an Army tail gunner living in Sebring, Fla.
Most of the men on the tour have visited Japan since the war at least once before. This is Brown’s third trip.
“My getting to know some of the Japanese people has made me realize that the Japanese people are the same as we are,” Brown said. “We want what’s best for our children and we’re not engaged in wanting war. We want peace.”
(Article Courtesy of Stars and Stripes)
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