Former Navy officer Jack Schwartz of Hanford turns 100 years old next month, and the Tulare-Kings chapter of the Military Officers Association of America will honor him at its regular monthly meeting in Visalia.
Schwartz is the last living charter member of the club and even though he’s 99, he still drives himself to the meetings, said Ray Gomez, first vice president.
“I like his sincerity,” Gomez said.
Schwartz was born in San Francisco on April 27, 1915, grew up in Hollywood and graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in civil engineering.
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He was a Navy lieutenant j.g. stationed in Guam as an engineer when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Two days later, he and others were taken prisoner by the Japanese and held in prisoner of war camps in Japan for the duration of the war — three years and nine months.
Regular readers of The Bee may recognize Schwartz. He and George Heimbuch of Clovis were in the same POW camp but didn’t know it until recently and had an amazing reunion.
Schwartz kept a diary during most of his captivity that he still has.
“Got a tangerine, 1/2 an apple, 2 caramels, + a cup of chocolate with toast,” one entry states.
“Food is No. 1,” he said. “You never heard a guy talking about sex.”
His first camp was Zentsuji.
“It was a show camp” to which Swiss Red Cross officials were brought and Admiral Tojo visited, so conditions were less harsh, he said.
“They did not make the officers go to work,” he said.
He also spent time at camp Kawasaki 2B in the Tokyo area.
“I was beaten a few times but not that severely,” he said.
In his living room is a framed pencil sketch showing Schwartz doing sailor’s macrame (he unraveled a hammock to acquire the string), and the words Happy Birthday Jack and signatures of his fellow captives. A fellow officer drew it.
“That’s one of my treasures,” he said.
Schwartz said he knew more or less what was happening in the war because the Japanese published an English language newspaper throughout the war and copies would circulate.
Later, he wrote a study about how each country’s media reported the war.
“Everyone likes to report they are winning,” he said.
After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945.
Two days later at the Rokuroshi camp in the mountains outside Hiroshima, “the Japanese commander came in and said ‘hostilities have ceased,’ and they walked off and left us there,” Schwartz recalled.
The newly free prisoners wrote POW on the rooftop. A B-29 spotted it and planes began dropping boxes of food. Two weeks later, rescuers arrived.
Schwartz returned home, married his sweetheart, raised a family, lived in Paris, Panama, New Mexico and other locations where the Navy needed engineers, and retired as a commander.
After retirement, he became the public works director of Hanford from 1962 to 1980.
Last year, he visited Japan as a guest of the Japanese government with six other former POWs.
They toured rebuilt barracks at a camp, visited a Buddhist shrine that kept a list of names of 40,000 POWs who died in Japan, attended a reception with U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, and stopped at the Hiroshima atomic bomb memorial.
Japanese media covered it and the visit was reported by The Washington Post.
Schwartz is philosophical about his return to a country he first saw through a fence.
“Here they are, saying ‘Let’s be friends again,’ ” he said. “What the heck, these people weren’t involved two or three generations ago.”