Commander Harold Stassen on Adm William Halsey's staff was in charge of the location and liberation of the POWs in Japan. Two years prior, Stassen had been governor of Minnesota. He resigned months into his third term and took up active duty in the Pacific with the Navy on April 27, 1943.
On August 29th, Stassen positioned hospital and transport ships in Tokyo Bay and then at mid-afternoon directed a flotilla of Navy launches to a POW-made island close to shore and the Omori POW Camp. The first three boats held battle-hardened Marines who immediately secured the perimeter and established a communications command. Next, with famed Navy and Hollywood photographer John Swope at his side, Stassen arrived to command the rescue operation.
Once on the island, Stassen was met by the camp's commander who told him he could not take the POWs as no authority from Tokyo told him to release the prisoners. The over six foot tall, Stassen glared down at the Emperor's representative and reportedly then grabbed the Japanese colonel by the front of his tunic and lifted him off the ground, and said, "I have no need for orders from Tokyo to do what I want to with these American prisoners." And so, that ended that.
Within hours the POWs were evacuated to the USS Benevolence where they were tiraged into those who needed immediate medical attention and those who were ambulatory. In the matter of a few hours, these walking skeletons were registered, checked, cleaned, deloused, shaved, clothed, and fed whatever they wanted and allowed to eat as much as they wanted under the watchful eyes of medics. Toward midnight, the healthier men were transported to the USS Reeves to bunk down until it was determined where to send them for their journey home.
Marine and Navy rescuers also quickly made their way to the nearby Shinagawa “hospital.” What they found was “an indescribable hellhole of filth, disease, and death.” One doctor, 1/Lt. Hisakichi Tokuda, at this "hospital" was infamous for his fascination with human experimentation and general medical incompetence. At the War Crimes Trial he was prosecuted for injecting soybean milk into one Dutch, one British, one Italian, and two American POWs resulting in their death. He was sentenced to life to death at the Yokohama War Crimes Trials in February 1948. On September 3, 1951, General Matthew Ridgeway, who was serving as head of UN Forces in Korea and Military Governor of Japan, commuted Tokuda's sentence to life. It is likely he was released in 1958.
Today, the Heiwajima Motor Boat Racing venue is located at the site of this former POW camp. This monopoly gambling franchise was created by unindicted Class-A war criminal and black marketeer Ryohei Sasakawa. It now is managed by the Nippon Foundation which is part of the Sasakawa family of foundations and enterprises. The Sasakawa family and organization is the major funder of Japan programs around the world, especially exchange and think tank programs in Washington. The organization is a major funder of off-budget projects of the Japanese government.
There is a small memorial at the venue--Heiwajima Kannon--featuring a statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) and a signboard in Japanese with some euphemistic references to the brutal history of this spot. Among the information not provided by the signboard are: 1) how many POWs perished here, 2) how many POWs built the original island, and 3) that wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was briefly held here when he was first arrested as a war criminal.