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Colorado World War II veteran shares story about time in infamous POW camp

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DENVER -- These days, 97-year-old Hank Cornellisson is taking it easy.

Deservedly so. He's lived a very long and full life. But that life was almost cut short during World War II.

Not by a bomb or a bullet, but by man known as the bird.

"He would say look me in the eye. You don't look me in the eye. Some days he would want you to look him in the eye and talk to him and some you're not supposed to look at him like that," Cornellisson said.

If you didn't look at the bird just right, you knew what was coming.

"You  know what a dowel rod is, about 3 to 4 feet long, and he would give you a couple raps on the head. That's where I got a Purple Heart, he hit me hard enough to give blood," Cornellisson said.

Cornellisson joined the Army Air Corps in 1939 and became a flight line mechanic for the B-10 bomber.

The Philippines sounded like good duty. It was, for awhile, until he was captured by Japanese imperial forces.

Cornellisson was put on the infamous Japanese hell ship Tottori Maru and was eventually taken to Kawasaki No. 7 POW camp, and face to face with Cpl. Mutsuhiro Watanabe, aka, the bird.

The infamous POW camp is portrayed in the 2014 Hollywood movie "Unbroken"

How did anybody survive the bird?

"A lot of us didn't. We had what we called the death WARD, and they would get so bad that they couldn't eat, and one camp we had, the death WARD, and just put them in there and we'd died," Cornellisson said.

Cornellisson did not say "they died." He said "we died."

A part of him died in that war. But he carried on, raised a family, and now, is just taking it easy.

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