SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — John J. Wilpers Jr. went decades without publicly revealing details about his international headline-making exploits at the end of World War II, a string of silence befitting a former Army intelligence officer-turned-career CIA employee.

It took the belated awarding of a Bronze Star to the upstate New York native to finally loosen the lips of the man credited with preventing former Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo from committing suicide on Sept. 11, 1945, nine days after Japan officially surrendered. Tojo was eventually put on trial for war crimes and executed in 1948.

"I never wanted it in the first place," Wilpers, 90, said of the attention he received after capturing Tojo and again earlier this year when he finally received the medal.

Until being awarded with one of the military's highest honors in a late February ceremony held at the Pentagon, Wilpers had never spoken at length with the media about his role in capturing Tojo, who at the time was vilified in America and elsewhere for Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and wartime atrocities against Allied prisoners in the Pacific Theater.

For years after the war, Wilpers told neither his wife nor their five children about his wartime experiences, including Tojo's capture. It wasn't until his son Michael, then in college in the mid-1970s, read an account of the capture that Wilpers' children learned what their father did during the war.

"He was reading something in the library: 'John Wilpers, blah, blah, blah, Tojo,'" the elder Wilpers told The Associated Press this week in a telephone interview from his home in Garrett Park, Md. "He asked me, 'What's this about?' I said, 'Forget you ever saw it.'"

Even Wilpers' oldest son, a journalist for 30 years, never got a scoop from his old man.

"He didn't talk about it at all. He didn't talk about his work, didn't talk about the war," John J. Wilpers III, a media consultant from Marshfield, Mass., said Friday.

Born in Albany on Nov. 11, 1919 — the first anniversary of the end of World War I — "Jack" Wilpers was a boy when his family moved 30 miles north to Saratoga Springs. His father worked as a bookmaker in the famous horse racing town and his mother ran a tea room at a nearby golf course.

He entered the Army Air Corps in 1942 and transferred to a counterintelligence unit. He shipped out to New Guinea in August 1944, served in the Philippines and Okinawa, then was among some of the first American troops to enter Japan.

On Sept. 11, 1945, nine days after Japanese officials surrendered, Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered Tojo's arrest. He had gone into seclusion, but proved easy to find for then-25-year-old Lt. Wilpers and the rest of the small Army counterintelligence detail sent to arrest him: American newsmen had picked up Tojo's trail and were already camped outside his house in suburban Tokyo.

"The best way of finding Tojo was to find our own U.S. newspaper people, because they were there well ahead of us," Wilpers recalled.

Through an interpreter, Tojo was told he was being taken into custody by the Americans. After appearing at a window, Tojo ducked back inside. Soon after, a gunshot was heard. Wilpers kicked open the door to Tojo's room and found him lying on a small couch, blood splattered on his white shirt and a pistol still clutched in his right hand.

"I was trying to keep one eye on him and one on the pistol," Wilpers said.

He had tried to shoot himself in the heart, but only managed a severe wound. Reporters piled into the small room behind Wilpers and photographers began snapping pictures. One of the best-known photos, taken by a correspondent for Yank magazine, shows a uniformed Wilpers aiming his sidearm at the wounded Tojo as he picks up the man's gun with his other hand.

News accounts reported that Tojo's house staff and a Japanese doctor summoned to the home apparently were inclined to let him die from the self-inflicted gunshot. According to the reporters and photographers on the scene, that didn't sit well with Wilpers.

"We managed, at gunpoint practically, to get a next-door neighbor to get a doctor, and he was forced to come down and treat him," Wilpers told the AP on Friday.

An American Army doctor and medical staff eventually showed up and kept Tojo from dying.

Tojo's capture made headlines worldwide, and Wilpers' name and photograph appeared in publications across the U.S. For many in America, the ex-premier was the last holdout of the Axis triumvirate that included Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. By the time the war ended in Europe in May 1945, Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker and Mussolini had been executed by Italian partisans.

Tojo stood trial for war crimes, was found guilty by a military tribunal and hanged on Dec. 23, 1948, a week before his 64th birthday.

Wilpers said he doesn't recall any nervousness prior to confronting Tojo, and he claims not to have given the man's downfall much thought in the following decades. Of the handful of American servicemen who participated in the capture, Wilpers said he's the last one alive.

"We didn't know any better, how good or bad it could have been," he said. "It was a job we were told to do and we did it. After, it was 'Let's move on. Let's get back to the U.S.'"

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Wilpers said after the war he spent 33 years in the CIA, but declined to discuss specifics of his work. Over the past two decades, Wilpers rebuffed various requests, including several from the AP, to tell his story in detail. That began to change last February, when he spoke to the Washington Post and the Army News Service after receiving the Bronze Star he was first recommended for in 1947.

According to the medal's citation: "Had Captain Wilpers not acted with courage and initiative, Hideki Tojo would have succeeded in avoiding trial and possible execution for his acts."

For his part, the self-deprecating Wilpers downplays his place in history.

"I just happened to be the one who busted open the door," he told the AP.

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