Coosa veteran Charles Patterson experienced several historically significant events first hand during his younger days, serving as part of America’s occupying force in Japan after World War II.
Now 91, Patterson hopes to eventually share some of the history he’s collected over the decades with others. He’s lived alone since 2006, and has dedicated his later years to preserving mostly military literature and documents.
“When my wife died, I took a back room of my house, took out all the furniture and made bookshelves,” Patterson said. “I’ve got about 1,300 military books, and a lot of them are signed by the authors.”
Patterson said he has also collected military artifacts, many associated with the Sugamo Prison in Tokyo where he served as a military police guard in 1947, 48 and 49.
Once he completed his eight weeks of basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington, it was off to Japan.
“I was with the 1st Cavalry Division, then I went through a Military Police school,” Patterson said. “They needed military police out there, so they took some of us.”
Patterson was able to have direct interaction with some of the more high profile prisoners early on in his time at the facility.
“I met (Gen. Hideki Tojo) quite a bit,” Patterson said, speaking of the ousted leader of Japan who played a significant part in ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor. “I was in the guard section and we had a jailer section up front.”
Tojo was a general and the prime minister of Japan during a portion of World War II. He was tried and executed for war crimes.
Patterson said he had many interactions with former Japanese government officials and collected signatures during conversations with them. Patterson called the more important prisoners the “27 old men.” Eventually, prisoner interaction policies tightened, but Patterson still had friends on the inside to help collect artifacts.
“As an outside guard, I helped transfer prisoners from here to there,” Patterson said. When German prisoner of war Hermann Goering killed himself in Europe, however, contact soon became limited. “MacArthur put a stop to it. He said that wouldn’t happen at his prison.”
Though he didn’t see it with his own eyes, Patterson vividly recalls the early morning hours when Tojo was hanged, saying the Army even brought in extra MP units from Tokyo and soldiers from the 11th Airborne to beef up security at the prison.
“We were on standby,” Patterson said. “I was in bed and I heard them when they dropped.” He said Tojo was hanged with six others just after midnight on Dec. 23, 1948. “We could hang 5 at a time, so they hung four and then hung three more.”
With his deep roots in Floyd County, Patterson sees his collection as a way to educate and give back to the community.
“I ran away from home when I was 18,” Patterson said. He said grew up going to Hollywood Baptist Church and was even a lightweight boxer in the area for a time in the 1950s. After his time in the military, Patterson retired from a 34-year career at International Paper, and now he wants his historical collection to be open for the community to view.
Patterson hopes to eventually open up his log home to the community so groups can come and view his collection and learn about military history.
“I want to make an office and a space for people to meet that seats about 50,” Patterson said. “Right now I’m checking to see what all I need to do to make it happen.”