John Kowalski was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and received a Medal of Honour for his service. He joined the Marines in 1919. In 1924, he was stationed in Ch'ang-Sha, China, where he met Tsuin Hanneford, the half-Chinese daughter of Dr. Michael Hanneford, and fell in love with her. Her brother Chou disapproved of the relationship and had Kowalski severely beaten. When the Chinese nationalists moved in on Ch'ang-Sha, Kowalski was ordered to evacuate Hanneford, but Chou wanted to join the nationalists and caused a firefight with the American troops. During the fight, Kowalski shot Chou, which caused Tsuin to hate him. Unknown to him, she was pregnant with his child.
In 1937, he was charged with treason for some reason and dishonourably discharged, as well as deported to Poland. Just before the outbreak of World War II, John was approached by Dr. Eric Ostergan, a German with the Anti-Hitler underground. His organization had learned of Hitler's plans to invade Poland, and Ostergan asked Kowalski for help in contacting the American government. Kowalski didn't care and turned him down, and when Ostergan was killed during the invasion, he cursed Kowalski with his dying breath. When Kowalski was killed shortly thereafter during a fight with a scavenger, he inexplicably became an agent of Death, possessing recently deceased people and atoning for his sins by helping other people escape the horrors of war.
In 1940, while possessing the body of Japanese Colonel Sessue Takeda, he met Tsuin again and realized they had a son. He helped both of them escape the Japanese Army.