Many have read the great account of Olympian Louis Zamperini and his time in Ofuna, Japan World War II prisoner of war camp chronicled in Laura Hildebrand’s Unbroken. A great book. But here’s a remarkable true story of other POWs and heroes who were in the same camp with Zamperini and remained friends.

On Memorial Day, 1998, I stood in the rain at the Ofuna railroad station just outside of Yokohama in Japan. I’d always heard how Japanese were polite and many spoke English, but it’s often unwise to rely upon conventional wisdom. While they were polite, few spoke English, and my Japanese was non-existent.

So, I stood in the rain watching the Japanese world go by. Then I spotted a middle-aged man with a child. I asked him, by chance, if he spoke English and he said he did a little. I asked him if he knew where the World War II prison camp had been. He said he did not and was surprised to hear that there might have been one here. He’d been raised in Ofuna, and the subject had never come up. He also couldn’t imagine such a thing being so near Tokyo. I assured him it was, and he apologized for not knowing. I thanked him and went about trying to find someone in their sixties who might have lived here as a child during the war.

A little while later as I was asking more people if they spoke English, the first man came running up, out of breath. He told me his wife had just arrived to pick him and his daughter up, and she thought she had heard of it. He invited me to come with them and find the spot.

His wife said her English name was Lucy and his was Guy. She was charming and spoke a little better English than he did. She asked if I knew details about the camp. I could also tell from Lucy’s manner and questions, she really wanted to know why I would want to find a prisoner of war camp.

I explained that my father had been a prisoner in Ofuna during World War II. They both were very quiet and apologized for his suffering. If they could have disappeared in that moment, they would have. I told them quickly that my father loved the Japanese people. They were more shocked. Yes, I explained, he understood the difference between the political events and the people. It was the guards who were brutal. I told them of the days by the wire fence of the camp where the local people had come up to bow to them and offer greetings. Despite their homes being firebombed nightly by the B-25s, they went about their business the next day and part of that business was being hospitable to the American POW’s.

I also told Lucy and Guy that my father related many stories of kindness as well as stories of shock of how the guards often ran outside of the fence and beat the villagers for their kindness. Still, the villagers returned to bring aid to the American prisoners. The day the war ended in Japan, the guards were gone, and the villagers wandered into camp. The American soldiers had just received airdrops of large cannisters of food. Instinctively, the hungry Americans shared their food with the starving villagers.

That made Guy and Lucy smile and say that during war, much could not be understood but American kindness was well noted.

I then took out my father’s book and read some of the descriptions of the area around the camp. Lucy said she knew exactly where the camp had been and drove to the spot.

Just as my father had described, a hill suddenly rose, covered with a dense forest. In the middle was a Buddhist temple, the same one my father had seen from his camp. I told Lucy and Guy that I had two reasons for being there. The first was to see the spot where my father had lived for 15 months and the second, to find the grave of Ernie Peschau, my father’s bombardier on his B-24 that had been shot down over Saipan while flying cover for a crippled plane. When my father heard the distress call from Lt. Rushing’s plane, he called over his intercom and asked the crew if they were up to rescuing the other plane, noting it could be fatal. Instantly all 11 men shouted approval. As Dad’s plane flew cover over the crippled plane, the Japanese Zeros hit his plane and sent it spiraling down. Dad managed a water landing, but an explosion in the bomb bay ripped the plane in half, killing six of the crew. The rest survived on a life raft until they were captured in Saipan…but that’s another story. The fact is, all 11 of those men were heroes.

Ernie had serious internal injuries, but somehow managed to survive the days in the raft after the crash landing, the days of torture in Saipan, the flight to Tokyo and the torture and starvation in the Ofuna camp. One day it was all too much, and he died. By Japanese custom, his body was cremated but my father wanted him to have a traditional American burial. As commanding officer, it was his duty to see to the service. He bribed the guards to take him and his co-pilot Lt. Hiriskanich, to the Buddhist temple where they had burial areas. A young Japanese girl met them and said she had a sacred spot up the hill. They wound their way through the thick forest to a little burial spot. There they spoke their words and buried the remains of Ernest T. Peschau, a brave fellow who died for his county.

Dad thanked the young lady and tried to give her a gift, although he had little to offer. She refused and said it was her duty and honor to care for them.

Some 52 years later, I stood by that temple trying to find the grave that the Peschau family had never found.

Lucy went inside to see if someone there knew of a grave site on a hill. She returned with an older lady and gentleman, both dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. They bowed and said they remembered the prison camp and offered their apologies for the war. I assured them none were needed, and I was honored to meet them. The gentleman said he remembered a burial spot but was too old to hike the hill. The quiet elderly lady said she would be honored to take us there.

We wove our way through the formal gardens into the forest and up the hill. Soon we arrived at a little clearing where some stone markers stood and about twenty-five wooden stakes leaned against trees. Each stake was about three inches wide, five feet high, and ornately carved at their top with black Japanese characters gracing the face of the stake.

She asked the name of the soldier, and I told her. One by one we read the stakes. Finally, she read, “Ernest T. Peschau.” I’d found his grave.

The kind, gentle lady said his name over and over. Finally, in halting English she asked, “Was your father named, Loren?” Shocked, I said it was.

She smiled. “I remember your father. He was most kind and gentle. He offered me gifts for helping him bury this young man.”

It was the same young lady. She smiled, “How is your father?”

“Quite well,” I said.

On this Memorial Day as I write, I remember Ernest T. Peschau, my father, the lady of the Buddhist Temple and the others who gave of themselves for others. Especially to the families of those who died for our blessings of liberty, I remember you.