Home History The Bataan Death March War Crimes Trial: Was It Fair?

The Bataan Death March War Crimes Trial: Was It Fair?

by Enochadmin

JAMES BALDASSARRE’S LONG-AWAITED CHANCE for payback was at hand. The 51-year-old sergeant, whom a reporter known as the “good prototype … of the hard-bitten, sardonic ‘previous Military common,’” had watched Japanese guards torture and homicide his fellow prisoners in the course of the Bataan Demise March in April 1942, and he had endured greater than three brutal years as a prisoner of conflict, swearing to remain alive to see his captors get what they deserved. 

Now, on Jan. 9, 1946, he was within the Philippine capital of Manila to testify on the war-crimes trial of Masaharu Homma, the Japanese basic who commanded the troopers who had brutalized hundreds of helpless American and Filipino prisoners in the course of the march 4 years earlier. There was little doubt the place Baldassarre stood.

“They need to grasp the person. He’s a no-good son of a bitch. I ought to pull the rope …. Ship him to me. I’ll repair him up,” he advised reporters exterior the courtroom. 

Homma’s protection attorneys portrayed their consumer as an out-of-touch commander, saved in the dead of night concerning the atrocities his troops had been committing. The prosecutors, nevertheless, believed Homma knew about his males’s barbarity and had chosen to disregard it. 

Dozens of survivors had been lined as much as testify in opposition to Homma, so prosecutors would have little hassle proving the horrors of the march — however extra was wanted. The case hinged on a cloudier problem: Might Baldassarre and different witnesses hyperlink Homma to the atrocities of the march by displaying Homma probably knew what his males had been doing and had turned a blind eye to it? The reply may decide whether or not Homma lived or died.

HOMMA and the Philippines

AT THE START OF THE WAR, Japan focused the Philippine islands, an American possession since 1898. Tokyo assigned Lt. Gen. Homma and his 14th Military to seize the islands, and anticipated the marketing campaign to take not more than 50 days. Homma’s opponent was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who commanded the American and Filipino troops within the Philippines.

Born in 1888, Homma was a profession soldier and a person of eclectic pursuits. A tall, stern-looking man, he had graduated from Japan’s navy academy in 1907 and from its military workers school in 1916, and had served as navy attaché to London from 1930-32. He spoke fluent English, loved Western literature, wrote poetry, and was an avid tennis participant. 

On Dec. 10, 1941, the primary Japanese infantry troops invaded the Philippines when a small power of Homma’s males landed on northern Luzon, the principle island. They shortly confirmed how brutal they could possibly be. His troopers entered the workplace of Buenaventura Bello, 51, an administrator at Northern Faculty in Vigan. They ordered him to take away the American and Philippine flags from his workplace, however he refused.

“These palms are made to defend them and by no means to drag them down,” he stated.

A soldier shot him within the groin. (Bello survived.)


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Macarthur’s protection

Homma’s major landings had been at Lingayen Gulf, north of Manila, on Dec. 22, and, two days later, at Lamon Bay, to the south. MacArthur deserted Manila on Dec. 26, declaring it an open metropolis to spare civilians from assault, and withdrew his forces into the 25-mile-long Bataan Peninsula, throughout Manila Bay from the capital. Homma misinterpret the retreat because the disorganized flight of defeated troops, nevertheless it was a deliberate withdrawal by troopers able to battle. MacArthur had anticipated making a stand on Bataan if his males couldn’t cease the Japanese on the invasion seashores; mountainous Bataan was well-suited for protection, and MacArthur supposed to carry it. 

A tall and hanging determine, Homma (middle) seems on Jan. 20, 1942, with Jorge B. Vargas, a Filipino politician who later served as an administrator in the course of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Japan’s invasion had begun the prior month. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

From January 1942 onward, MacArthur’s American and Filipino troops maintained their grip on Bataan, withstanding repeated Japanese assaults, and by early February, Homma realized he wanted extra males. Tokyo was already impatient with him for the marketing campaign’s sluggish progress, and Homma was ashamed to wish reinforcements. 

Whereas MacArthur’s troops continued to stymie the enemy, their state of affairs was rising dire. A Japanese blockade of the Philippines meant the boys needed to make do with what that they had. Meals was in brief provide. Rations had been reduce to 2,000 energy per day in January, about half of what a soldier wanted; by March, they had been all the way down to 1,000 energy per day — “nearly sufficient to maintain a person alive if he stays in mattress,” Military docs stated. Medicines started to run low, and malaria and dysentery took their toll.

Homma’s Plan

As soon as Homma had his reinforcements in hand, he deliberate a closing offensive for early April. Assured of victory, he had his workers devise a plan to move the American and Filipino troopers he anticipated to seize on Bataan to jail camp. Below the plan, prisoners would assemble at Balanga, about 19 miles north of the southern tip of Bataan. From Balanga, they’d march about 35 miles north to San Fernando. From there, they’d journey by rail to a jail camp in central Luzon. On paper, the plan ready by Homma’s workers known as for humane remedy of the prisoners, a workers officer insisted. 

Japanese troops advance to the entrance in Bataan in preparation for Homma’s huge April 3, 1942, offensive; defenders surrendered
days later. Regardless of assurances of “kindly” remedy (under), throngs of POWs had been then subjected to the horrors of the Bataan Demise March. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)
(U.S. Air Power)

The U.S. Warfare Division, too, knew the tip was close to, and in March 1942 had ordered MacArthur to evacuate to Australia to keep away from his seize by the Japanese. Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright changed MacArthur, and Maj. Gen. Edward P. King Jr. was put in command on Bataan. 

On April 3, 1942, Homma launched his offensive, and his troops sliced via Allied strains. The American and Filipino defenders not had the power to battle. Virtually each man suffered from the consequences of extended hunger in addition to from malaria or dysentery, the chief medical officer, Col. Wibb Cooper, recounted. Most had misplaced 20 to 30 kilos, and commanders estimated that many weren’t match sufficient to stroll 100 yards with out resting.

On April 9, 1942, Gen. King surrendered the roughly 75,000 troops on Bataan, the most important give up in American historical past. He put aside U.S. Military vans and automobiles to move his males to jail camp, however the Japanese refused to make use of them. When King sought assurances that the Japanese would deal with his males humanely, an officer replied, “We aren’t barbarians.”

However, King had motive to fret as a result of Homma’s males had already proven that they usually performed by their very own guidelines. That they had continued to bomb Manila after MacArthur had deserted it. Prisoners of conflict had been executed, and Japanese planes had focused an Military hospital marked with a crimson cross. 

POW Hell

THE PLIGHT OF THE BATAAN PRISONERS shortly degenerated into chaos. The Japanese had anticipated not more than 40,000 prisoners, however the quantity was practically double that, and so they hadn’t anticipated simply how malnourished and sick the boys had been.

The principle drawback, nevertheless, was that Japanese troopers seen their captives with contempt. As Homma himself admitted, the Japanese military handled give up as the last word shame, and its troopers had been taught to die quite than capitulate. Contempt led to harsh remedy. In response to historian Charles A. Stenger, in the course of the conflict, 40.4% of the American servicemen held by the Japanese died in captivity, whereas the loss of life price for these held by Germany was 1.2%. 

Homma had different issues on his thoughts, and “curiosity and consideration for Prisoners of Warfare was ‘skinny’ from Homma on down,” stated Col. Toshimitsu Takatsu, one in every of Homma’s workers officers. Homma’s job wouldn’t be performed till he seized Corregidor, the island fortress within the mouth of Manila Bay. So long as Allied forces held Corregidor, the Japanese couldn’t use Manila Bay, one of many best harbors in Asia. Due to mounting stress from Tokyo, Homma grew to become preoccupied with Corregidor. Prisoners needed to be faraway from Bataan shortly in order that he may convey troops and provides to southern Bataan for an amphibious assault on the island. 


Guards handled prisoners and civilians with savage fury. Sgt. Michael Bruaw heard a gaggle of 25 prisoners scream as guards used them for bayonet observe. Maj. Richard Kadel noticed a terrified Filipino household of eight flee when shells from Corregidor exploded close by. A patrol caught them, and an officer held a child by the legs as he sliced off the toddler’s head together with his sword. His males compelled the opposite seven to kneel as they beheaded them one after the other. 

American and Filipino prisoners marched in teams of 100 up Bataan’s two-lane Previous Nationwide Street towards Balanga and San Fernando. Males struggled to maintain up, however that they had no selection as a result of the choice was loss of life. Guards, whom the prisoners known as “buzzard squads,” completed off those that couldn’t go on. 

Sgt. Baldassarre noticed a colonel stagger off the street, muttering, “I can’t make the hike anymore.” Earlier than he went 6 ft, a guard shot him. The identical destiny befell a lieutenant who stumbled off the route murmuring, “I’m all in.” Sgt. Horace Clark watched a soldier he knew as “Large Smitty” drop from exhaustion. Large Smitty’s mates tried to choose him up, however guards chased them away as one other guard beheaded the helpless soldier. Maj. Bertram Financial institution helped carry a weakened lieutenant colonel; a guard compelled Financial institution to drop the person, after which drove a bayonet via the colonel. 

The facet of the street alongside the route quickly grew to become suffering from corpses that remained unburied for days. Within the 18-mile stretch between Balanga and Lubao, for instance, Sgt. Baldassarre noticed tons of of American and Filipino our bodies. If a corpse stayed on the roadway, passing vans flattened it.

Japanese guards power Filipinos to view lifeless POWs. Remedy of prisoners was brutal from the beginning, with the Demise March claiming hundreds of lives. (U.S. Marine Corps/Nationwide Archives)

Guards tormented the exhausted males by dashing up the march to double-time tempo. As Japanese vans handed by, troopers in them reached out with golf equipment to hit prisoners. Maj. Fred Castro noticed guards throw exhausted males right into a pit. One begged for mercy because the guards compelled prisoners to fill the pit with grime, burying them alive. Close to the Pantingan River, guards tied a number of hundred Filipino prisoners collectively and attacked them with swords and bayonets. Solely a handful survived.

The warmth drove prisoners mad with thirst. Artesian wells dotted the route, however guards beat or killed prisoners who tried to drink from them. Males grew to become so parched that they drank from streams crammed with rotting corpses. Even relaxation breaks had a sadistic twist. Guards compelled prisoners to take a seat beneath the blistering solar with out shade, meals or water.
To Lt. William E. Dyess, a fighter pilot captured on Bataan, “we ceased to be males — extra like filthy, ravenous rabble.”

No REspite

Filipino civilians took pity on the prisoners.

“They might hardly stroll. A few of them, they had been carried by their companions,” stated Fernando Ocampo, an American-educated Filipino architect.

Ocampo and his sister introduced baskets of bananas, rice muffins and hard-boiled eggs to provide to the prisoners, however a guard kicked the meals right into a ditch. When the captives scrambled to retrieve it, guards hit them with rifle butts. Prisoners noticed guards beat or kill different Filipino Good Samaritans. 

For many prisoners, the march to San Fernando took practically per week. The Japanese supplied meals sparingly, if in any respect. Lt .Dyess, for instance, was fed just one mess equipment of rice all the time. At San Fernando, the prisoners had been crammed into metal boxcars for the four-hour practice trip to Camp O’Donnell, a former Philippine military base and now a jail camp. Dyess counted 115 males in a single automobile. Many suffered from dysentery, and the boxcar flooring had been coated with human waste. Guards saved the doorways locked, and males struggled to breathe the recent, fetid air. They arrived at Camp O’Donnell “dehydrated, starved and within the merest rags of clothes,” Brig. Gen. James R. N. Weaver reported. Nobody will ever know the precise variety of males who perished on the march and the journey to Camp O’Donnell; historians estimate the loss of life toll at 10,000. 

Deaths continued after the POWs arrived at their jail at Camp O’Donnell, the place, later within the conflict (high), a U.S. soldier and a conflict correspondent uncovered crude grave markers. The atrocities remained unknown till Lieutenant William E. Dyess (under) escaped in 1943. (Bettmann/Getty Photographs)
William E. Dyess (U.S. Air Power)

At Camp O’Donnell, the struggling continued. The lads had been inadequately fed, and illness ran rampant. Aid businesses introduced meals and medicines to the camp, however the Japanese saved this stuff for themselves. By June 2, 1942, greater than 25,000 American and Filipino prisoners had died at Camp O’Donnell.

Homma ended the marketing campaign by capturing Corregidor on Could 6, 1942. He had taken practically 5 months to complete a job anticipated to take not more than 50 days, and he paid together with his job. On Aug. 5, 1942, he was relieved and despatched house to Japan, the place he spent the remainder of the conflict in retirement. 


THE U.S. GOVERNMENT and the American public didn’t study of the Demise March for greater than a 12 months. They bought the information after Lieutenant Dyess escaped from Davao jail camp, on the Philippine island of Mindanao, in April 1943, made his strategy to Australia, and gave the primary eyewitness account of the march. When his story hit newsstands on Jan. 28, 1944, it sparked a stage of anger not seen because the Pearl Harbor assault. President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed that these accountable would pay. Congressmen vowed vengeance. The general public spoke with its pockets, and war-bond gross sales practically doubled. Homma had turn into a marked man. 

As Japan’s formal Sept. 2, 1945, give up approached, MacArthur was despatched to Japan as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and a part of his job was to supervise the trials of Japanese conflict criminals. On Sept. 11, he ordered the arrest of 40 suspects, Homma included. When Homma turned himself in 4 days later, he advised reporters he was shocked to be on MacArthur’s checklist. As for the Demise March, he stated, “I don’t assume it was such a tricky march.” 

Normal Douglas MacArthur arrives at Japan’s Atsugi Air Base on August 30, 1945—a number of days earlier than the formal give up—to supervise the occupation as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. His authority included oversight of all Japanese war-crimes trials. (Nationwide Archives)

On Nov. 4, 1945, the USA charged Homma with a conflict crime for failing to “management the operations of the members of his command, letting them commit brutal atrocities and different excessive crimes” in opposition to Filipino and American troopers and Allied civilians. The costs specified 47 separate acts of barbarity that included not solely the Demise March but in addition the mistreatment of civilians interned in Manila, neglect of prisoners at Camp O’Donnell, and the widespread abuse of Filipino civilians. If convicted, Homma could possibly be sentenced to loss of life. 

On Dec. 15, 5 generals — 4 People and one Filipino — had been chosen as judges for Homma’s trial. One, Philippine Maj. Gen. Basilio J. Valdes, had an axe to grind in opposition to the Japanese. That they had murdered his brother, Alejo, after they mistook him for Basilio.

An skilled litigator, 53-year-old Lt. Col. Frank E. Meek, was named the lead prosecutor, heading a crew of 1 Filipino and 5 American officers. Maj. John H. Skeen Jr. was chosen to go the protection crew of six junior U.S. Military officers. Skeen, a 27-year-old legal professional who had by no means tried a legal case, had anticipated to rotate house and wasn’t thrilled to be defending Homma. In a letter to his spouse, nevertheless, he promised to “give the S.O.B. every little thing attainable in the best way of protection.”

All of the judges, prosecutors and protection attorneys served beneath MacArthur’s command.

In pretrial motions, Homma’s attorneys attacked the proceedings for quite a few causes, together with the principles of proof MacArthur’s headquarters had put in place. These guidelines, for instance, allowed the prosecutor to current affidavits in lieu of dwell testimony — one thing impermissible in American courts as a result of it violated the accused’s proper to confront the witnesses in opposition to him. The problems Homma’s attorneys raised had been already earlier than the U.S. Supreme Court docket within the case of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, who had been sentenced on Dec. 7, 1945, to hold for the brutal acts his males dedicated when Allied forces retook Manila earlier that 12 months. 

Homma’s attorneys additionally challenged MacArthur’s pervasive function within the proceedings: Not solely had he ordered the trial, with the judges, prosecutors, and protection attorneys all serving beneath him, but when a loss of life sentence had been imposed, MacArthur would resolve if it will be carried out. Since Homma had crushed MacArthur on Bataan, they argued, MacArthur’s function within the proceedings created the looks that the trial was about revenge for that defeat, not justice. The judges denied these motions and ordered the case to proceed. 

witness to fact

THE TRIAL BEGAN on Jan. 3, 1946, in Manila’s excessive commissioner’s residence, nonetheless pockmarked with injury from the combating to recapture Manila. To Lt. Robert L. Pelz, one of many protection attorneys, the 57-year-old Homma regarded like “a tired-out grandfather who has girded his loins for a final battle.” 

Nobody contended that Homma had ordered any atrocities or participated in any. He was charged as a result of he commanded the boys who had dedicated these crimes and had performed nothing to cease them. Whereas a commander’s responsibility to regulate his troops was well-established, the breadth of command duty was a murky problem. The uncertainty was whether or not a commander was routinely accountable for his males’s misconduct or whether or not he was criminally accountable provided that he knew, or ought to have recognized, what his troops had been doing. In his opening assertion, prosecutor Meek promised to show that Homma had had precise data of his males’s misdeeds. Their brutality was “so widespread and so broad in sample and design and so steady,” he argued, that Homma needed to have recognized.

Subsequent, Meek moved to again up his phrases with proof. He confirmed that Homma’s headquarters at Balanga had been 500 yards from the march route — so shut, Meek asserted, that if he “cared to pay attention he may have heard the screams of the wounded and the dying.” However Meek wished one thing extra direct to show Homma’s data, and Sgt. Baldassarre and a Filipino captain supplied it. 

Baldassarre recalled quite a few Japanese officers in workers automobiles passing the prisoners in the course of the march and described seeing one high-ranking officer on the march route close to San Fernando. A Japanese soldier advised him it was Homma. When requested at trial if the high-ranking officer he had seen was within the courtroom, Baldassarre pointed at Homma and stated, “He’s proper there now, sir.”

At Homma’s trial, Buenaventura Bello (standing, middle) shows the American flag Japanese invaders ripped from a wall after taking pictures him when he refused to maneuver it. (Bettmann/Getty Photographs)

Capt. Alberto Abeleda described an analogous incident. On the route close to Lubao, Abeleda noticed a “large, flashy automobile” cease in entrance of a warehouse. Japanese troopers snapped to consideration as an officer bought out of the automobile, spoke to one in every of them, after which left. Abeleda described the officer as a giant man, and Homma stood simply over 6 ft tall. Abeleda advised the judges he later noticed Homma’s photograph in a Manila newspaper and acknowledged him because the officer he had seen. 

This testimony damage Homma’s trigger badly. Quite a few witnesses had described how the march route was strewn with corpses, implying that nobody who traveled that street may have missed seeing them. If Homma had seen these corpses, he knew his males had been working amok and had a authorized responsibility to cease the carnage.


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between life and loss of life

ON JAN. 21, the prosecution rested. It was now the protection’s flip, and Homma’s attorneys sought to determine that Homma had been blind to what his males had been doing. Surprisingly, the protection additionally known as a number of of Homma’s underlings to attempt to present that the march wasn’t all that unhealthy — an not possible place in mild of the tough circumstances that quite a few survivors had already described. 

Maj. Moriya Wada swore that fewer than 30 prisoners perished on the march and that that they had died from illness, not mistreatment. Col. Yoshio Nakajima insisted he noticed prisoners close to Balanga resting within the shade and consuming Japanese rations whereas different prisoners swam in a close-by stream. Col. Seiichi Ohta maintained that guards gave the boys ample meals and water and allowed them to relaxation as wanted. Homma’s chief of workers, Takeji Wachi, went additional, insisting that guards helped drained prisoners to the facet of the street to relaxation or onto vans to trip to San Fernando. These witnesses all had a motive to deceive keep away from being charged with conflict crimes themselves. 

HOmma Speaks

One month into the trial, on Feb. 4, Homma took the stand to insist he hadn’t discovered of the march’s horrors till listening to the survivors’ testimony. He portrayed himself as a figurehead with restricted authority over his subordinates. Preoccupied with Corregidor, he had relied on these subordinates, he claimed, and so they hadn’t reported any mistreatment to him.

“I’m ashamed of myself ought to these atrocities have occurred,” he stated.

He admitted touring on the march route on a number of events however claimed, “[m]y reminiscence on the purpose is considerably obscure.”

He denied seeing any corpses.

“I used to be not searching for them notably,” he defined. 

The identical day Homma took the stand, the protection bought unhealthy information when the U.S. Supreme Court docket refused to intervene within the Yamashita case. Since that case raised the identical points as Homma’s, it was now unlikely the excessive courtroom would hear his attorneys’ motions. 

Because the trial neared its finish, the protection tried to humanize its consumer by calling Homma’s 42-year-old spouse, Fujiko, to testify that her husband wasn’t the type of individual to countenance atrocities.

“I’m pleased with the truth that I’m the spouse of Gen. Homma,” she stated, as Homma wept at counsel desk.

Mrs. Homma, described by a reporter as a tiny, kimono-clad lady who spoke “animatedly and earnestly,” was such a sympathetic determine, prosecutor Meek later remarked, that he was “by no means so glad in all my experiences in courtroom to have a witness get off the stand.”

Homma’s spouse, Fujiko—right here at her husband’s facet—testified on his behalf and later made a direct enchantment to MacArthur to spare his life. (AP Picture/Max Desfor)

The Verdict

Feb. 11 was determination day. Homma stood because the chief choose, Maj. Gen. Leo Donovan, solemnly introduced that they discovered him responsible and sentenced him to be “shot to loss of life with musketry.”

That very same day, the Supreme Court docket refused to listen to Homma’s case, which eliminated the final authorized impediment to Homma being punished by navy judges working beneath the principles set by MacArthur’s headquarters. Two justices, Frank Murphy and Wiley Rutledge, disagreed and condemned the proceedings.

“Hasty, revengeful motion just isn’t the American method,” they said, and in contrast the trials of Homma and different Japanese officers to “blood purges” and “judicial lynchings.”

Homma’s destiny now rested with MacArthur. As supreme commander, he would resolve if Homma could be executed or spared. Fujiko Homma traveled to Tokyo to plead her husband’s case, and MacArthur met together with her on March 11. She was a “cultured lady of nice private attraction,” he stated, and he known as the assembly “probably the most making an attempt hours of my life.” He promised to provide “the gravest consideration” to what she had stated.

However Mrs. Homma’s pleas, MacArthur affirmed the conviction and loss of life sentence 10 days later.

“If this defendant doesn’t deserve his judicial destiny, none in jurisdictional historical past ever did,” he said. “There might be no better, extra heinous or extra harmful crime than the mass destruction, beneath guise of navy authority … of helpless males.”

As for the proceedings themselves, “no trial may have been fairer than this one,” MacArthur stated.

The sentence was carried out at 1 a.m. on April 3, 1946, at Los Baños, a former internment camp south of Manila. MPs led Homma, palms sure behind his again, into the yard and tied him to a submit. He was “calm and stoical,” a reporter famous, and refused to make a closing assertion. A black hood was positioned over his head, and a military physician put a four-inch spherical goal over his coronary heart. On command, 12 troopers standing 15 paces away fired.

“Military precision marked the grim, practically silent drama,” the Related Press reported. 

justice served?

SINCE 1946, HISTORIANS and authorized commentators have had harsh phrases for Homma’s trial. The proof was robust sufficient to permit the judges to seek out that Homma knew what his troops had been doing, so the end result may need been the identical whatever the circumstances. MacArthur’s pervasive function, nevertheless, created an unsettling look of unfairness and bias, resulting in a preordained outcome. 

Homma had crushed MacArthur on Bataan, the one time the Japanese had defeated the U.S. Military in a serious marketing campaign and the one battlefield loss MacArthur had ever suffered. The judges answered to MacArthur, and MacArthur’s guidelines of proof wouldn’t have handed muster in an American courtroom. An skilled prosecutor was pitted in opposition to a courtroom novice, and only one individual — MacArthur — had the facility to spare Homma’s life. The deck gave the impression to be stacked. D. Clayton James, a revered biographer of MacArthur, known as the trial a miscarriage of justice, and William Manchester, one other distinguished MacArthur biographer, went as far as to conclude that Homma was convicted by a kangaroo courtroom “which flouted justice with the Supreme Commander’s approval and doubtless at his urging.” 

Sgt. Baldassarre, nevertheless, shed no tears. In actual fact, he didn’t perceive why Homma deserved a trial in any respect. The Japanese “by no means trialed us. They killed individuals like flies” and gave the prisoners “nothing however bullets and bayonets,” he advised reporters in the course of the trial. To the crusty sergeant, a rating had been settled. 

Standing together with his lead American legal professional, Main John H. Skeen Jr., at left, Homma learns that he has been sentenced to be “shot to loss of life with musketry.” (AP Picture/Max Desfor)

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