After the war, POWs who had been incarcerated in Japanese camps all told the same story about Mutsuhiro (Matsuhiro) Watanabe - whom prisoners called "The Bird." He was difficult, sadistic, vicious and - above almost anything else - enjoyed beating the prisoners who were in his charge.
Major David M. Kirk said this about the Bird:
Sgt Watanabe was the evil genius of this camp ... He would have spells when the slightest infraction, imaginary and real, would draw drastic punishment.
Watanabe didn't like dirty shoes. One of his rules required that any POW with dirty shoes had to lick them clean.
This image depicts "The Bird."
Much later in life, when Louie Zamperini learned that "The Bird" was still alive, he agreed to meet with him. Watanabe's family—who did not know about their father's past—refused to allow the two men to meet. They were worried about something, as expressed by Watanabe's son:
Mr. Zamperini will expect my father to bow and scrape and ask forgiveness. (Quoted in Devil at My Heels, Zamperini's 2003 book, at page 281.)
Zamp, however, would not have wanted Watanabe to ask for forgiveness. The POW had already done that:
When I heard, I said, "No. I'm not going to ask him to ask for forgiveness. I've already forgiven him." (Devil at My Heels, page 281.)
Forgiveness, for Zamp, meant something much more than mere words. It meant something much more than making peace. Louie tells us what true forgiveness meant to him:
The one who forgives never brings up the past to that person's face. When you forgive, it's like it never happened. True forgiveness is complete and total. (Devil at My Heels, page 282.)
Zamperini and Watanabe never met again, after the war was over. But Watanabe knew that even though he had not asked for it, he'd been forgiven by one of the prisoners he'd tormented the most.
Image of Mutsuhiro (Matsuhiro) Watanabe - the Bird - online, courtesy Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken web site.
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