Finding the Japanese boy who had saved his grandfather during World War II

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Sixty-nine years ago on Saturday, American and Filipino prisoners of war on the Bataan Peninsula started marching at gunpoint. By the time the survivors arrived at a prison camp in the Philippines in spring of 1942, they had watched thousands of their comrades die along the 60 or more miles. What they suffered endures as a symbol of wartime cruelty. A few months ago, the grandson of one of the survivors traveled from Northern Virginia to Japan with an old photograph in his hand. It was a grainy picture of a young Japanese boy. For Tim Ruse, a 27-year-old sleep disorders specialist from Centreville, and for the Japanese people who greeted him, the photo offered a way to pluck from a dark chapter of history one single act of compassion. It was a photo of the child who helped save his grandfather’s life. Now they just had to find him.

The image of the boy was one of two photographs that Carl Ruse clutched in his hands when he boarded the USS Rescue in September 1945. He stripped the filthy clothes from his emaciated frame and threw his makeshift crutches into the sea. He left everything behind except those two pictures: The first of himself when he arrived at the prison camp in Japan — his cheeks hollow, his gaze hard and haunted — and the second of the boy.

In the old, torn print, the child looks perhaps 11 or 12. He is not quite smiling, but his eyebrows are raised slightly. He wears a cap and buttoned jacket, a somber uniform framing his pudgy cheeks and dark, gentle eyes.

In 2007, four years after Carl Ruse died at 89, his grandson inherited his boxes of letters, medals and memorabilia from the war. Tim Ruse had interviewed his grandfather about his experience in Japan once before, as a high school senior for a class assignment. But it wasn’t until Ruse went through those boxes that his fascination with his grandfather’s history was rekindled in earnest. Ruse and his wife, Meagan, were expecting their first child, a son whom they planned to name after Carl....

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