Don Svoboda – US Military Police Corps

Image by Moaz Elemam

They said the war was over. It wasn’t.

Listen on Luminary

This episode is based on the award-winning book by Terese Svoboda entitled Black Glasses Like Clark Kent.

(in order of appearance)

Artist – Title – Album

AF Ursin – Reverie en mineur – Aura Legato
Mushio Funazawa – Artist – The end of Negation
Tashi Wada with Yoshi Wada and Friends – Ground – FRKWYS Vol. 14
Biosphere – ‘t Schop – The Hilvarenbeek Recordings
Leandro Fresco – Cuando El Sol Grita La Mañana – Pop Ambient 2013
Eduard Artemiev – Untitled (Track 4) – Andrey Tarkovsky Vol. 4
Hyperspace Jelly – (Interlude) – Digital Travelogue
Jan Jelinek – A Concert For Television – Tierbeobachtungen
Hyperspace Jelly – City Nights – Digital Travelogue
Craig Leon – The Twenty Second Step As Well As The Tenth – Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 2: The Canon
Corey Fuller – Look Into The Heart Of Light, The Silence – Break
OSSIA – Devil’s Dance – Devil’s Dance
Tashi Wada with Yoshi Wada and Friends – FRKWYS Vol. 14
Mushio Funazawa – In the Night of A Red Moon – The end of Negation


Don Svoboda – US Military Police Corps

Don Svoboda: The trip from San Francisco took 28 days. On the 28th day, we woke up in the morning, and the ship seemed very solid. I scrambled up the stairs as soon as I got awake. We couldn’t see the land, but the ship was stopped and anchored. There was quite a fog on the bay, but as you looked up, you could see this breathtaking view above the fog. The sun was shining on Mount Fuji. It was the most beautiful sight and surprising sight I think I’ve ever seen in my life.


All right, Terese. It’s Monday morning, November 15th, reporting in to you from Yuma, Arizona. Laurie and I have been down here about a week, and we’re kind of getting settled in. So maybe I thought I’d start to attempted it. You realize I’m not a storyteller, and I thought I’d just start to tell you about the situations and the times and the different experiences. You’re the one that’s going to have to make a story out of it, okay?

This story starts in the late fall of 1944. I had just turned 18 in October. Well, I received my greetings from Uncle Sam about two weeks after my 18th birthday and was soon on my way to a small army base just south of Denver. During that summer of 1945, the war in Japan was starting to go our way.

[General MacArthur would return victoriously and expressed new confidence that the Japs will be smashed into unconditional surrender.]

We moved troops from the European theater over into the South Pacific.

[The Japanese made their final desperate stand.]

There was many casualties.

[There is an excellent outlook for a permanent peace in the whole of the Pacific area. More than a million of our troops are today-]

During the month of July 1945 and into the first part of August, we sent bomber after bomber over Japan with fire bombs, literally burning their cities to the ground. It was definitely a scorched earth policy.

[Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world.]

There wasn’t much left of the cities.

[And that God will preserve it always.]

In the month of August, I think it was about the middle or to the latter part of it, we had two bombers. One was called the Enola Gay. That plane dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Two or three days later, the B-29 called Bockscar dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. This seemed to get their attention.

[This is surrender.]

It wasn’t many days they were surrendering-

[Major General -]

… with General MacArthur and the Japanese people, the people in power.

[The fleet that the Japanese meant to destroy forever at Pearl Harbor comes back to stay. Admiral Halsey and the officers and men of the United States Navy are nearing the final goal.]

Don: Years later, there were people who criticized President Truman for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, and they were outraged and very vocal about the cruelty of my generation. But in my opinion, one generation should never criticize another generation because they didn’t live in that time. They didn’t have the feelings of the propaganda it would inject into the people. Anyway, I was a young 18-year-old kid, not too smart, but I was smart enough to know I was very happy they dropped the big one.

This all happened while I was on furlough and riding the train into California. In fact, I think they signed the peace treaty the day we loaded up on our troop ship headed out to San Francisco Bay and out under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was in the evening. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge and starting to feel the swells of the ocean, as an 18-year-old kid it seemed like it was the start of a great adventure.

Our original destination was to a staging area north of the Philippine Islands. About two days out, we were re-routed because of the dramatic effect brought about by the two atomic bombs. It brought a quick surrender fortunately. The rest of the trip into Japan was uneventful.

We disembarked, and we were loaded on trucks and taken to an area just on the edge of Yokohama. They didn’t seem to be any big hurry of assigning us. I think everybody was just kind of relaxed and taking their breath. The service people that fought months before through the islands, they just were laying around and just happy that the sun had come up every day.

The next few days, I spent every moment I could outside the camp exploring the countryside. I came across a large orchard. I believe it was an apple orchard. Underneath the trees there were about 100 planes hidden under the leaf canopy in nice neat rows. I never found out if these planes were general aircraft that people were trying to hide from our bombing or if they were kamikaze pilots, kind of a last draw of a kamikaze type of thing. It was a beautiful day, and the sun was filtering through the leaf canopy, and I was the only person there. I could just go from aircraft to aircraft. It was kind of like the dying of a country or the giving up. It’s hard to describe.

The Japanese people were exhausted. They were hungry. Their infrastructure was destroyed. All of their crack troops and their armament and their ships sunk in other parts of the Pacific. They were thin. They were hollow-eyed, and they had the look of total fatigue. They were a defeated people.

I found out that I was assigned to the 81st Infantry Division. It was stationed in Aomori, Japan. It was several hundred miles north of Yokohama. The next day, before getting on the train, several of us soldiers, including myself, stopped at the small makeshift PX and bought a couple of cartons of cigarettes each. We decided to raise a little money as we trained through the country, doing a little black marketing.

Our train stopped about every 15 to 20 miles at railroad stations. They were crowded with people, just hordes of people. It was the fall of 1945, and they were still a year away from another crop. There was no food going into the cities. The city people had to board trains and any conveyance they could to get out further away from the city to forage for anything to eat. Then they went back in the city to live. They just didn’t have a home except the bombed-out areas.

When they’d see us holding the cigarettes out of the windows, they would come running to the train holding up a fistful of money. We bartered until the train started to pull away, and we settled for the biggest wad of money.

[The country’s most immediate post-war problem was one of sustaining life-]

At about the third stop we dumb-lucked into a new marketing skill, so to speak. As the train started pulling out of the station, during the exchange of the cigarettes and money, I held onto both the cigarettes and the money, a sheer stroke of genius.

[Nippon’s 80 million people simply could not produce enough food to keep themselves alive.]

By that afternoon we had perfected this exchange so skillfully that the three of us would get the money and the cigarettes back up in the train at the same time.

[The Japanese people seemed to reconcile themselves quickly to the fact that the war was over and they had lost.]

When we lost all our individual packages of cigarettes to either superior grips or the missed timing of the train departure, we stuffed the cartons full of kind of a wood straw that was in the seats. We eventually lost the bogus cartons of cigarettes. It was at night, and we sat about laughing and joking and counting our money. We had well over 1,000 U.S. dollars each. We parlayed six cartons of cigarettes into about 4,000 U.S. dollars. We envisioned ourselves as the James gang of northern Japan. The only difference, we didn’t rob trains; we robbed from the trains. It was a good day at the races.

I was very reluctant to tell that story about myself. I sit here with my stomach full of roast beef and money in my billfold. It seems like I am revealing a bad character flaw about myself. But I have to say in self defense, in self defense of my younger self, you had to be there. It felt good and seemed right at the time.

The next day, the train arrived in the area of Aomori. The remaining recruits, which included me, the remaining soldiers, they kind of separated as to their abilities. Anybody over 200 pounds and over six foot tall was automatically military police. The ones that were assigned to the military police went to the populated areas. Then I was assigned to the military police escort guard. I forget the unit number. But we were sent into the Tokyo Yokohama area.

For six months the occupation of prostitution was legal. So the powers in force put me on a cabaret detail, which was certainly more interesting. There was a dance floor that was kind of partially bombed, and the second story was open. For so many yen, you’d get 20 dances and two quarts of beer. About this time they learned modern dance, a little bit of jitterbugging.

During that time our job was to go to these prostitution houses and check their health cards, which we didn’t know a darn thing about because they were all in Japanese with a lot of red stamps on them, and keep up what they called pro stations. It consisted of dispensing of condoms and rice medicine. It kind of looked like homemade soap that they had to bathe with.

We’d always do this in the daytime so we wouldn’t interrupt working hours. These girls were just young kids, mostly from out of Hokkaido, which was a farming community. The people were poor. They would sell their daughters into prostitution. They would sell them for so many yen. Their girls worked that money off. I don’t know what the deal was, but I’m sure it wasn’t a very fair business transaction.

Anyway, this one day we were in this real nice whorehouse. I just want to call them a whorehouse. They had these quilts on these beds that were beautifully embroidered dragons. So we were checking these cards and, of course, the girls were very playful. They’d come up behind us and whack us with a pillow in the head. They were just kids.

Anyway, this other MP that was with me, we kind of got fond of these two beds with these dragons, these embroidered dragons on these quilts. So we grabbed the quilts and threw them out the window. This was on the second floor and hopped down the stairs and put our quilts in. Of course, the girls were coming after us. But anyway, we got home and put these dragon quilts on our beds, and we looked pretty snappy. Anyway, everybody pays the price. About three weeks later we got a bad case of lice, and we had learned our lesson.

The powers to be requisitioned the main prison of Tokyo. It was a ways out in the country, and myself and three other soldiers were assigned to go out and clean it up and get it ready for occupation. We woke up the next morning about 6:00 and heard a loud humming noise, just hundreds of voices. We looked out the window, and the whole quarter below us, the courtyard, was full of Japanese. They all came over to the prison, knowing that the U.S. was taking it over, and was looking for work. We handpicked about 30 or 40 Japanese, mostly males, to be our workforce for the next couple of weeks.

Later, we found out we had to body search them when they left. We decided we would have been better off picking some of the younger, prettier girls. It took about three to four weeks to clean the prison up and get it shipshape, so to speak. In that time we were slowly filling the prison up. There were approximately 600 prisoners, 300 that were in there for death sentence and the other 300 in for six months. The six month-ers usually for black market or some petty theft or insubordination, and the death sentence prisoners were usually … There were probably two crimes were the most common. It was rape and murder. The army didn’t seem to believe in anything in between. It was either six months or death.

The building was enclosed with a real tall fence, and we had one gate for any ingress and egress, and that was it. It just took one soldier to guard our premises. One night I had that duty, and it was getting late. A young Japanese lady walked up to me, and she tried to speak. “English?” She indicated she’d kind of like to learn English. We talked and laughed a little, and it got so that we were kind of holding each other and squeezing. The Japanese don’t believe in kissing. It’s taboo, I guess.

Anyway, they had other ways of indicating they were amorous. I didn’t want to take her to the barracks because there was probably 50 people sleeping in this one big room. We walked and decided to walk inside the boiler room. It was warm, and we sat down on this platform, or lay down on this platform, and we held each other and did the natural thing to do. We consummated our lust, and it was extremely enjoyable. It’s obvious I don’t know how to describe a sex scene, so you’re going to have to handle that one, Terese.

Terese Svoboda: My uncle did send me the tapes, but I had other things I had to do. So I didn’t get to work on them right away. What I did, I sat down and listened to them all the way through.

Don: The trip to San Francisco … the dying of the country … in self-defense of my younger self … just kids … because I didn’t [inaudible].

Terese: It was a completely different picture than the one that you’ve been told, which is of American soldiers giving out gum and candy, which they did do. But MacArthur was very particular about censorship. There was a total blackout of information due to MacArthur, who kicked out any journalists who seemed to be relaying information he didn’t want people to know about.

The first thing that the occupied discussed with the occupiers was what to do about rape. The Japanese had set up houses of prostitution in advance of the troops. There was a little card that was handed out. It was pink, and it said on one side, alliterated in Japanese, “Where is the bar?” And on the other side were price lists for the whorehouse, “20 yen, a buck and a quarter for the first hour, 10 yen for each additional hour, and all night for 50. If you pay more, you spoil it for all the rest. The MPs will be stationed at the doors to enforce these prices. Trucks will leave here each hour on the hour.” And in caps, “No matter how good it feels without, be sure to wear one.”

Instance of VD became so terrible in Japan, one in four servicemen had it at that point, that there was actually a shortage of penicillin in American because they needed so much of it. So MacArthur decided he was going to reverse his stance and make prostitution illegal. That was a bad idea. There was 40 rapes on an average before he changed his policy and then 330 a day after that in 1946.

There were two terrible incidences. One was on April 4th when 50 GIs broke into a hospital in the Aomori district and raped 77 women. On April 11th, 40 soldiers cut off the phone lines of one of Nagoya’s city blocks and entered a number of houses simultaneously, raping as many girls and women as they could between the ages of 10 and 55. There was a lot of havoc being wrought on the country by these young men.

So my uncle was an MP in the largest prison in all of Asia situated in Tokyo, and the U.S. was using it to collect all the prisoners across Asia and the Pacific, to hold them there until the boat came for Fort Leavenworth. These are soldier prisoners, and they are American. These are not prisoners of war. These are American servicemen who have been convicted of crimes.

Don: The timeframe now is about the 1st of March in 1946. Our prison system in the Yokohama area was getting outnumbered. We were just having too many prisoners. We were getting prisoners in from just about every place.

Our captain, Captain Glass, he put us on eight hours on and eight hours off. Some of the posts that we were manning, it took a half hour, 45 minute ride to get there and a half-hour, 45 minute ride to get back, if you were lucky. That wasn’t much time to sleep and recoup, and it was a impossible situation. It couldn’t last very long at that rate.

To get more sleep, we started taking the prisoners out of the cell and letting them run free outside the wall, and we would sleep in their beds. It was a crazy thing to do, but we got so we didn’t know daylight from dark.

At this time, it was getting towards summer. We would take the prisoners out of their cells, and then we had a space between the cellblocks. It was kind of a compound. They could play basketball, or another popular event at that time was boxing. We’d always try to get a couple of big guys or people that had a little disagreement to put their gloves on, and it was quite a show. It was just like kind of a cock fight. They were making side bets and which round the guy would get knocked out on. Anyway, there was about as much fighting in the audience as there was in the boxing area. It was great entertainment as long as you weren’t involved.

Every day three times a day, we would unlock all the doors and blow the whistle, and the prisoners would step out into the corridor, and we’d march them down to breakfast, lunch and dinner. In this hallway, which was about oh, 14, 15 feet wide, the Japanese had torture chambers. They were oak boxes, looked a lot like phone booths. The idea of it was you couldn’t sit down, and you couldn’t stand up. About six hours in these boxes and you certainly made a point with the prisoner. Anyway, we had them lined up in this hallway, so when we would march the prisoners by, they could hear these guys in there moaning, yelling and screaming. It’d kind of turn them into mush.

We were getting more new prisoners in than we were releasing, and the prison was really getting overcrowded. The prison was the only prison for the Eighth Army, which covered a good share of the Pacific and, of course, all of Japan. The duty was getting not only boring, but it seemed to be getting a little more dangerous. They were roughing up some of the guards and a few things like that I won’t mention.

Another prisoner that was very dangerous and unruly and mentally disturbed was a guy that was just serving six months. We didn’t know his name, but we called him Number Six. He was in the first cellblock in the sixth cell. But one day I was unfortunate enough to draw him as one of the workers. We would take out about a dozen. We’d march them out the front gate and then march them almost around the prison.

One day I had Number Six out, and they were having a little bit of break. He got up and walked over towards me. He says, “I’m going to go over here to this whorehouse district, and you’re not going to do a damn thing about it.” I just tucked the shotgun right up underneath his throat. I had it on safety, but my finger was just banging up against the trigger, nervous.

We looked in each other’s eyes about a foot or two apart. He had the damnedest eyes. They were kind of, where the light was supposed to be, it was kind of yellow. He was just an evil man. We stared at each other, and I finally stared him down. That was his lucky day because he turned around and sat down. Anyway, he vowed to kill me. Obviously, he didn’t get the job done, but we definitely had more than a personality conflict.

One day the captain called a meeting for all the soldiers. We met up in a large room in the auditorium. He commended us for being good soldiers and doing our job well and having a minimum of problems. Then towards the last of the talk he dropped a bomb. He says, “The prison is getting terribly overcrowded.” He says he’s going to start executing the prisoners, the ones in the death cells.

The next four or five weeks were hell. He got a group of Japanese carpenters, and they hauled the lumber in. They were working and banging and hammering right smack between the two death cellblocks. He ended up by draping the damn thing in black silk, which I thought was in bad taste. The construction of the hanging device right between the cellblocks was a very stupid idea. The prisoners got extremely nervous and dangerous.

As the days rolled by, the idea of they were really going to execute the prisoners started to sink in. We had a attempted prison break or a prison break at least once or twice a week. If you were walking back to the prison and you were within a block or so and the prison break siren would go off, a soldier in the MP outfit would turn around and go the other way. It was just for survival. We all started spending more time, our spare time, away from the prison. Otherwise, we’d be exposed to these prison breakouts and do a lot of unnecessary trouble.

Well, the captain accomplished what he set out to do, and that was get more room in his prison. The death sentence prisoners were very hard to handle after that. They would make hostile moves for you and threats, and it was just a miserable environment. Every day they were looking at a hanging and some type of a threat. He got the idea or he got-

Terese: It sounded as if a portion of it was erased. The captain had accomplished what he set out to do, a confirming yet mysterious sentence. It’s a way of presenting the fact without actually saying he executed these prisoners. Maybe he went on to explain, but then he changed his mind. I don’t know. I could have asked him questions about why it was he ended his recordings at that point. Was there something he really wanted to say about what he had witnessed? I wrote him a letter with a whole series of questions, but then I decided that I really should call him, which I never did. Of course, I regret that I didn’t send the letter because about a week later he killed himself.

Don: Hi, Terese. It’s Monday morning, November 15th. I stayed awake most of the, or not most of the night but some of the night, thinking of my experiences I didn’t recall yesterday and really thought, “What was this tale really all about?” I feel that the story is not only about the occupation, I came to this conclusion anyway, but of a defeated nation and a defeated people with a conquering people living together. But as I look back on my actions and reactions, part of this story is about a person who just would not let the army interrupt his life.



Don Svoboda
Terese Svoboda

Nick van der Kolk, Host and Director
Phil Dmochowski, Managing Producer

Julia DeWitt, Producer
Steven Jackson, Producer

Published on: July 13, 2019

From: Episodes, Season 8

Producers: , ,

Previous post:
Next Post: