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His tour included serving at Sugamo Prison

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POSTED December 15, 2008 3:49 a.m.
In the aftermath of World War II, Bill Dickerson came of age to volunteer for the US Army.
His mother had died a month earlier of cancer and he lost his father during a Valentine Day 1942 car crash.
“He had just enlisted that day,” Dickerson, 80, recalled. “He never made it (to war).”
A Manteca resident of the past 15 years, he was 13 and living in the Missouri town of Warsaw during the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We didn’t have TV or own a radio back then,” Dickerson said on Friday.
Rather, he heard of the news ushering the U.S. into World War II via newspapers, in particular, the Kansas City Star and KC Times.
In January 1947, Dickerson, who turned 18 nearly four months earlier, voluntarily joined the Army. He was stationed in Ft. Riley, Kansas, and Ft. Lewis, Washington, before being shipped to Japan.
He was a military police officer for the 8th Army while in Japan. But soon after, Dickerson was a guard at Sugamo Prison.
Originally built in 1920s for political prisoners, the place was home to many Japanese war criminals awaiting trial before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
“The prisoners were no danger to us,” Dickerson said. “But they were to themselves.
“It was our job to prevent them from trying to commit suicide.”
Among the big names at Sugamo Prison during that time included former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Tokyo Rose.
Dickerson — or “Dick” as he was called back then by his Army buddies — was one of 2,500 military personnel assigned to duty at the prison.
He estimates tending to 1,100 war criminals during his time at Sugamo. “Now a lot of the generals were either killed or committed suicide,” he said.
In addition, Dickerson was bothered about hearing of the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II.
“They were some of the smartest people but they were also among the cruelest,” he said, blaming the Japanese leaders of those days.
Dickerson heard many stories about acts of torture and rape committed by the Japanese.
Meanwhile, he didn’t witness a single execution of a war criminal while at the prison.
Many at Sugamo met their fate at the gallows.
“We had one execution by firing squad,” Dickerson said.
Yet his friend, Ellis Cocker, witnessed many as a hangman.
Others he knew were taunted by prisoners awaiting execution.
“They would say things to those guys such as, ‘I’ll come back and haunt you,’” Dickerson recalled.
His job was to escort and interrogate prisoners.
“They didn’t speak a word of English but had some of the best lawyers in the world defending them,” he said.
 After the end of the occupation of Japan by the Allied forces, Sugamo Prison was passed on to civilian government control. The remaining war criminals were pardoned or paroled.
The prison closed in 1971 and, seven years later, a skyscraper was built at the site.
All that remains of Sugamo Prison is a stone engraved in Japanese: “Pray for Eternal Peace.”
As for Dickerson, he was honorably discharged on September 1949. Some of his Army buddies went to fight in the Korean War.
He worked various jobs including General Motors and Westinghouse, moved to Tracy, where his uncle resided, and owned and operated a bar for many years.
He also drove trucks and worked as a security guard after retiring in 1965.
Dickerson and his wife, Dorothy, have five children, with two living in Manteca, another in Austin, Texas, and two in Southern California.
Because of health issues, he’s been forced to give up his favorite sport, fishing.
“I miss it,” Dickerson said.
He still has plenty of photographs from his time at Sugamo Prison.
“I lost some,” said Dickerson. “Others have faded over the years.”
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