Photography Jason Huynh

Charles Patterson, featured above, has lived anything but an ordinary life. As a former member of both the United States Army and the Air Force, he has stood guard over WWII war prisoners in Japan and served as an Air Policeman during the Korean War. No doubt he has many memories to share from his 90 years of life with the readers of Grand Magazine.

This is Charles’ story.

Having grown up in Lindale, Georgia and the surrounding area, Patterson was only 18 years of age when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. The year was 1947, and World War II had ended just two short years before. Though not active duty, Patterson was stationed to be a guard at Sugamo Prison in Japan, which housed suspected war criminals waiting to be sentenced by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. One such criminal was Hideki Tojo, General in the Imperial Japanese Army and Prime Minister of Japan.

While the prison was a dark place for those who had opposed the Allies during the war, Patterson himself and his fellow U.S. soldiers felt nothing but compassion for the Japanese citizens. “Us G.I.s, we couldn’t stand to see the little kids go hungry. We’d give them everything we had. We’d even go get them food out of the mess hall.”

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After serving in the army in Japan, Patterson returned home and married his sweetheart, Betty Freeman, in 1949. They ended up having five children together, two daughters and three sons; and later eight grandchildren.

After returning from Japan, Patterson explained that finding a job was difficult. So, he decided to join the Air Force and went on an 11-month Tour of Duty during the Korean War. “I was an Air Policeman, which is simply just military police. See what we did in Korea, we liberated Korea from Japan,” Patterson explains.

After returning from Korea, Patterson worked for Georgia Craft for 34 years as an equipment operator.

For many years now, Patterson has been an avid collector of all things related to the United States’ wars, and specifically Sugamo Prison memorabilia. His home, which he shared with Betty until her passing in 2006, is now filled with relics and notable collectors’ items. Lining almost two complete walls of his living room are pictures of notable figures of the War and prisoners held at Sugamo. Another poster actually features all of the Sugamo guards, including the 18-year-old Patterson.

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A completely separate room of the home functions as Patterson’s library. There, hundreds of books, encyclopedias, movies and more are displayed. One of the special items featured in the library is an authentic Japanese Imperial Flag, signed by the members of a Japanese Company. Hidden in one of Patterson’s books is a copy of Japanese Yen, signed by Tojo himself.

Patterson says that at 90 years old, he is now looking for someone to help him write a book, in order to share the many stories he’s collected from his fellow soldiers throughout the years. “I have the materials, it’s already [written]. I just need to get someone to put it together,” he smiles.

We are honored to retell these memories of one of our country’s heroes and to personally thank Mr. Patterson for his service.