Atmore citizen played great role in WWII

Published 6:32pm Tuesday, October 22, 2013

They say a soldier usually likes to forget his experiences, and sometimes his encounters, while serving his country overseas.
But that is not the case for Atmore’s Garth Branch.
This 88-year-old veteran delights in recapturing memories following the end of World War II, and the time he spent as a jailer overseeing Japanese prisoners at the Sugamo Prison confinement area, in Tokyo.
But there was one particular prisoner who drew his attention more than any other. That prisoner was Hideki Tojo, the renowned prime minister of Japan.
“For day in and day out I watched the guards transport Tojo to and from the prison,” Garth said. “They housed him in another facility away from the prison and he had to change his clothing each morning after they brought him in.”
A fellow soldier had made two “photo snapshots” of the famous leader as he was preparing to board the bus, according to Branch, and he “gave me one of those pictures.”
“A few days later I had duty requiring me being up close to Tojo and even talking with him,” Garth said. “He was very humble that day and seemed he wanted to talk. So I asked him if he would do me a favor and he said, in fairly good broken English, ‘I would be glad to if I can.’”
He brought that picture of him that day and he asked Tojo if he would autograph it for him. Tojo told him he would be glad to do this.
“So I handed him the picture and he politely turned the picture over and signed it,” Garth said. “The trial went on for quite a while and I would see him just about every day. He didn’t seem to get upset or excited when they moved him in and out of our area, but some of the other prisoners had to be watched more closely.”
“After they took him away when the trial was over, I got to thinking about what an important and notorious man this was,” Garth told me. He said he had become “so used to seeing him just about every day.”
Garth said it was hard to believe this man was responsible for millions of civilian deaths and thousands of POW deaths.
Tojo was sentenced to death and was hanged in 1948.
Garth also escorted Tokyo Rose, on her release in 1947.
“I am sure that autographed photo has a lot of value but I would never sell it because of all the memories that surround it,” Garth said. “It represents a time of my life that I will never forget.”
And there is one other memory he won’t forget, either.
You see, Garth made the November 2012 “cover story” of Alabama Living, the monthly magazine of Baldwin County’s EMC.
In that story he was featured as one of the members of the Honor Flight South Alabama last year. These proud veterans were flown to Washington, D.C., to visit the Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln, Korean and Iwo Jima Memorials. Garth’s grandson Travis accompanied him on the trip.
Garth said he and all the other veterans got the ‘royal treatment” on that trip. “We didn’t “even have to walk if we so desired, because they had nice comfortable rolling chairs for us” he said. But Garth chose to walk “and it was quite a bit of walking we did that day,” he said.
Garth and his wife Voncile are retired now and live in Atmore. He went to work at Pensacola Naval Air station in 1966 and retired in 1986. He and Voncile attend Brooks Memorial Baptist Church regularly. He recently attended a month-long session at Biloxi Military Hospital, in an effort to improve his eyesight. He says that session has proved to be a “big help in helping me see better.”
He and Voncile have two children, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Next week, we will take a look at more news and events from days gone by.

You can email Lowell McGill at exam@frontiernet.net.

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