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Harris tells of the end of WWII

John Willoughby:

Greene Publishing, Inc.

There are many of things Morgan “Sonny” Harris could flip to in his scrapbook when asked about World War II and his ties to the transition between war and peace. But two small photos of foreign administrators have stayed with him for years and are always a talking point when discussing the history of the infamous war.

Harris has held onto photos of Mamoru Shigemitsu, Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo for years. These delicate photos show details of who Shigemitsu and Tojo were, yet their history lies in the words told by Harris.

Born on Sept. 6, 1931, outside of Columbia, S.C., Harris was born to a father who served during World War I. Harris enlisted into the United States Army in 1949 and attended basic military training at Ft. Jackson, S.C., not far from home.

Harris' family had a history of honorably serving in the United States Military, including his brother, William, who had the pleasure of witnessing history. According to Harris, William was aboard the U.S.S. Missouri when Shigemitsu signed the surrender, effectively ending World War II on Sept. 2, 1945.

Just weeks beforehand, the Japanese Emperor stated that peace over destruction was preferred. This came after the United States had stated that “the authority of the emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state should be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” On Aug. 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender to the Japanese people, urging them to accept it. Henceforth, Aug. 14 was declared as Victory over Japan Day, otherwise known as V-J Day, by Americans in celebration.

September came and it was time for the official surrender to be signed by Shigemitsu. The U.S.S. Missouri floated in Tokyo Bay with more than 250 allied warships. History.com stated that as Shigemitsu signed the treaty, his aides wept as he made his signature. However, it was more jubilant than ever for William Harris, who witnessed the end of the most devastating war in the history of the world.

Years after the end of the war, Sonny Harris' first duty station was overseas at Sugamo Prison, in Tokyo, Japan, where he served as a guard in the 865th Army Unit. Built in the 1920s, Sugamo Prison held prisoners who had committed war crimes. Harris was assigned to Block 5, which held death row inmates. At Sugamo Prison, according to Harris, death row inmates were executed by hanging, gas and firing squad and on Wednesday evenings, prisoners scheduled for execution would be moved to blue prison, where they would remain until the execution was slated to take place.

The Sugamo Prison held over 2,000 Japanese war criminals and over 2,500 military personnel were assigned to guard the prison and prisoners. Before turning over the prison to Japanese authorities in 1952, seven executions had taken place during Harris' tenure. But before Harris’ time in the service, the Sugamo Prison had been home to many executions of those convicted of war crimes, including General Tojo.

After the end of the war in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the arrest of 40 alleged war criminals, including Tojo, who attempted suicide. Tojo, who stood trial by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, was found guilty of charges such as war in violation of international law, unprovoked or aggressive war against various nations, waging wars of aggression and allowing the inhumane treatment of prisoners of war.

Tojo died from execution by hanging at Sugamo Prison in December of 1948, just years before Harris arrived.

Harris is known in Greenville for his role in a service station in Greenville until the 1980's. He opened Bay Station, formerly located at the corner of 13539 W US Hwy. 90, in the late 1960s. The station had previously been owned by Archie Studstill, then Lee Bishop before Harris took ownership. Harris later moved his station to the corner of US Hwy. 90 West and US Hwy. 221 North, called Crossroads Service Station. Sonny and Lillian Harris still reside north of Greenville. They have two children: Sonya Harris Morris and Jeff Harris; and two grandchildren.

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