June 7, 1947
San Luis Obispo
From his trailer coach home near the campus of Cal Poly, where he is a student, William Leon Bruce--during wartime a Sgt. and resident of a Japanese prison camp—described his shock when he came face to face with Tomoya Kawakita, a functionary in the Oeyama camp, in a department store on South Boyle Avenue in Los Angeles seven months ago.
Bruce froze and stared at his former captor, who was strolling with two teenage Japanese girls. When Bruce moved to go after Kawakita, his wife Jean, 22, held him back and insisted he instead call the FBI. Bruce admitted Jean’s advice was sound, as he didn’t know what he might have done to Kawakita had he gotten his hands on him. Bruce carries the rage of one who suffered sinus injuries and a broken jaw from shrapnel on Corregidor, was carried by his buddies on the Bataan Death March and then spent three years in Oeyama, where Kawakita was the first official he encountered. Kawakita had reacted violently to Bruce’s patriotic tattoos, attempting to twist them off of his captive’s arm while screaming about “’crazy Americans and their symbols of freedom.’”
So rather than roughing up his one-time nemesis, Bruce tailed him as far as his car, and turned the license number and his captor’s name over to the F.B.I. When the name and number matched up, the Feds moved in.
Kawakita, a 26-year-old American residing at 220 S. Hicks St., is under arrest on charges of treason in Los Angeles. He went to Japan with his father before hostilities began, supposedly to resume his studies at Meiji University, Tokyo, and returned to Los Angeles after claiming he had not helped Japan during the war. If found guilty, he faces the death penalty. So far in court he has been answering direct questions about his war experience by claiming not to remember the answers.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, there are nearly 100 ex-G.I.s prepared to testify to Kawakita’s sadism, his skill at judo, his camp nickname of “Meatball” (obtained because he grew fat on rations denied prisoners) and his sneering opinion that “I knew you Americans couldn’t take it when the going got tough.”