Wally Weisenbornwas 17 years old when he signed up and joined the United States Army just after finishing high school in northern Wisconsin.

The year was 1945 and World War II had just ended.

"I would have been drafted when I turned 18 any way, so, I just went ahead and signed up," he says now.

Weisenborn was assigned to the 8th Cavalry Regiment 1st Division and sent to guard Japanese prisoners at Sugamo Prison in Tokyo.

The prison was one of the few things not damaged during the bombing and burning of Tokyo before the war ended.

"Tokyo was gone," Weisenborn told The Sun. "There was no Tokyo. It was set on fire. All the buildings were of flimsy construction any way and it did not take much to burn it down.

Weisenborn remembers the despondency of the Japanese after their surrender and the people who were desperate for everything — food, clothing, housing.

Allied occupation forces took over the prison during the occupation of Japan to house suspected war criminals awaiting trial before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

Most of those charged with guarding the suspected war criminals were, like Weisenborn, GIs – 17, 18 and 19 years old – and they were guarding some of the leaders of the Japanese war effort in World War II.

Some of the prison's famous charges included Gen. Hideki Tojo, who was Japan's prime minister from 1941 to 1944.

"They were beat at that point. Our main job was to keep them from committing suicide," said Weisenborn.

After conclusion of the trials, Sugamo Prison was used to incarcerate some of the convicted and was the site of the execution of seven inmates sentenced to death by hanging on Dec. 23, 1948.

When Weisenborn's tour was up in 1948, he opted out of the military.

"I would have stayed in, but at that time, I thought WWII would be the final war, and since it was over, there would never be another war. So, I got out," he says today. "It took a while to get rid of the hatred, but it's all over and in the past. I look back on my service now as a maturing process that provided discipline. It provided me a chance to grow up." 

When Weisenborn's tour was up, he went back home and went to college on the G.I. Bill, earning a degree in economics, and went into banking and commodities in Chicago. He moved to Sandestin after he retired.

He looks back on his military service as a part of his past that helped make him the man he became, but it only serves as one part of his history. 

Local Veteran’s Day Ceremony: The county will come together to recognize its veterans Monday at 11 a.m. at Magnolia Cemetery at 222 North Park Street in DeFuniak Springs. As part of the ceremony, there will be a military plane flyover, a presentation of a wreath, and a 21-gun salute. Guest speaker is retired veteran Ron Hargrove, founder of the World War II Military Vehicle Federation Museum in Florala.