During World War II, Americans avidly followed the hunt and prosecution of Japanese military leaders almost as if they were sports events, complete with colorful nicknames and breathless newsreels.
There was General Tomoyuki Yamashita, known as the “Tiger of Malay,” whose troops were accused of butchering civilians in the Philippines.
And war minister Tojo, Japan’s prime minister during the attack on Pearl Harbor, so well-known — and in those days, despised — he was often referred to by only one name.
Brookfield’s Howie Garst, who died last month at 102, saw them up close.
To him, Hideki Tojo was an Army assignment. Mr. Garst supplied Tojo with Barbasol shaving cream when he guarded him at Tokyo’s Sugamo prison, which held Japanese military officials suspected of war crimes.
He even saw Tojo’s scar from when he tried to shoot himself as American soldiers were closing in. “He could see the wound in Tojo’s chest when he was taking a bath,” said Cynthia Ohlrich, Mr. Garst’s daughter.
In a wartime memoir, Mr. Garst wrote, “It was my responsibility to see that the razor blade was confiscated after shaving since he had tried to commit suicide.”
“It seemed so strange that a tiny, shriveled-up old man could be responsible for all the destruction and lives at Pearl Harbor,” Mr. Garst recalled. “Here I was staring at a nude character and being one of the very few who saw this man in his birthday suit.”
Mr. Garst discussed the weather with one of Sugamo’s few female prisoners, Iva Toguri D’Aguino. “She was a cute little chick,” Mr. Garst told the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark in 2007.
Better known as “Tokyo Rose,” she was an American who visited Japan and became stuck there during the war. She was charged with making propaganda radio broadcasts to undermine American troop morale and convicted of treason. After prison, she lived a quiet life in Chicago, working at Toguri Mercantile at Belmont and Clark. President Gerald Ford pardoned her in 1977, making her the only American to receive a pardon for treason, according to Smithsonian magazine.
At Sugamo, he remembered viewing the execution chamber for those convicted of war crimes. “A brand new rope with a noose on one end hung through twin pulleys on a heavy beam near the ceiling,” he wrote. “Beneath the swinging trap door was an eight-foot pit. On the door to the gallows was ‘No. 13.’. . . It was a rather eerie feeling standing in the very spot where someone someday might die.”
While stationed in the Philippines, Mr. Garst saw a “stone-faced” Yamashita, his uniform muddied by a trek through the jungle but still carrying a vintage Japanese sword, after the general and 12 bodyguards emerged from a mountain hideout to surrender to American troops.
“He was placed on a truck and driven away,” Mr. Garst wrote. “The [Filipino] people made an attempt to stone the trucks as they passed through the small villages.”
Mr. Garst was proud of his service. “Although my efforts and assignments did not make history, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I gave my best,” he wrote. “I feel proud to have been part of the U.S. Army and that my country has a reputation that no other country has ever matched.”
But he was shaken and disgusted in 2004, when he read about abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by U.S. captors.
“He was ashamed,” said Cynthia Ohlrich. “He said, ‘We were supposed to treat our prisoners [at Sugamo] with dignity. We were never supposed to abuse them, talk to them badly.’ ”
Young Howie grew up in Byrneville, a community that’s now part of Burr Ridge. His family owned cows and fermented milk in huge vats, sending out a stench so overpowering, “The smell just knocked him over,” his daughter said. For the rest of his life, he did his utmost best to avoid eating cheese.
In 1934, he graduated from Lyons Township High School. He met his future wife Dorothy Jeffery when she was making sundaes at a local Woolworth’s. “He came home and said to his mother, ‘I have found the girl I plan to marry,’ ” their daughter said. They lived in Texas while he completed basic training.
After the war, he worked for 30 years as a treasurer at AAMED in Forest Park, a medical equipment company that operated inhalation therapy units at hospitals, his daughter said.
And he attended regular gatherings of the Sugamo Prison Reunion Association, said Ted Phillips of Denver, one of the few surviving members of the group at 89.
Mr. Garst’s wife died before him. He is also survived by his daughter Peggy Terhune; sister Eleanor Newman; seven grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. Services have been held.