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Forbidden Smiles

March 2023
1min read

Those who enjoyed “Forbidden Diary,” Natalie Crouter’s remarkable account of life in a Japanese prison camp during World War II (April/May, 1979) will remember Captain Rokuro Tomibe, the gentle camp commandant who did his best to make life for the Americans under his control as bearable as possible. Nevertheless, after the war Tomibe became a defendant during the Allied War Crime Trials held in Manila. Fortunately, Jim Halsema, a former prisoner of Tomibe’s, was in Manila covering the trials as a reporter; he insisted on testifying in Tomibe’s behalf, and on the strength of his evidence Tomibe was exonerated.

In 1977 there was a reunion of the Camp Holmes internees in San Francisco. Two hundred and twenty Americans attended, including Natalie Crouter, and as their special guest, they invited Captain Tomibe. In a memoir written after the event, Tomibe recalled “many beautiful stories about how Japanese soldiers and American Workers worked together, in spite of their language barrier, to accomplish their same purpose safely and certainly. I believe that human feeling which sprouted spontaneously became a smile … and enhanced into love among fellow soldiers as sharing a cigarette to smoke.”

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