WWII vet receives Bronze Star for service
March 1, 2010
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- As a young man of 25, John Wilpers was a member of the 308th Counter Intelligence Corps when he helped capture Japanese Gen. Hideki Tojo, who served as prime minster from 1941 to 1945 and was wanted for war crimes.
As a slightly less younger man of 90, Wilpers was awarded the Bronze Star at the Human Resources Command building here, Feb. 23. Wilpers, who for many years never told the story of capturing the infamous general, received his long overdue award due to the help of researchers at HRC, as well as staff members from the office of Naryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
Within 24 hours of the assignment to capture Tojo, Wilpers and his team were able to find him Sept. 11, 1945, at his home in Segagaya, a ward of Tokyo.
"We just followed the newspaper people, and we were able to find him," Wilpers said. "When he made his appearance, we moved in."
They heard a shot as they were attempting to find him, and when they burst in, Tojo was attempting to commit suicide, having shot himself in the stomach four times already. Wilpers, who was a lieutenant at that point, was able to seize the weapon from Tojo, and clear the room of any additional weapons.
Wilpers' actions ensured that Tojo would not become a martyr for the Japanese cause, and instead was tried and found guilty on seven counts of war crimes and executed Dec. 23 ,1948.
Wilpers remained in the Army until 1979, retiring as a colonel in the Army Reserve.
He was presented his Bronze Star by Brig. Gen. Richard P. Mustion, HRC adjutant general, who called it a "significant day, because we're here to recognize this great American patriot."
"Colonel Wilpers displayed incredible leadership, drive and ingenuity in not only finding General Tojo, but bringing him back alive, so he could be tried as a war criminal," Mustion said.
Wilpers was very humble when accepting his award, thanking the more than 80 Soldiers and civilians who came to watch the ceremony.
"It was all necessary, and that was the way it was supposed to be done. We had to save Tojo's life after he tried to take it, and we succeeded," Wilpers said.
He recalled that even after Tojo was executed, the U.S. didn't want any particular spot in Japan to become a shrine to him, so they scattered his ashes across the whole country.
After the orders for the Bronze Star were read, the audience lined up to congratulate Wilpers and his four children who were present. Many Soldiers took the time to have their picture taken with Wilpers.
"It's still hard to believe I had anything to do with it," Wilpers said. "I was very fortunate to avoid any permanent disaster over there, and hopefully I've got a few more good years left."