Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas on the Thai-Burma Death Railway 1943

Christmas Eve, 1943. Carol Singing, Dysentery Ward. 
Ching_Kai POW Camp, Thai-Burma Railway.

Watercolour on board.
 Copyright Status: artist estate

The above watercolor of POWs singing Christmas carols is by John George Mennie who joined Britain's Royal Artillery in 1940 and was posted in September 1941 to Singapore. He was captured when Singapore surrendered to the Japanese forces in February 1942 and was a prisoner of war untill August 1945. He was held at Changi Singapore 1942, Kanu 1943; Chungtai and Tamawau 1944, and Pratchi Thailand 1945. He was a slave laborer working on the Thail-Burma Death Railway.

Over fifty pieces of his POW work are archived in the Imperial War Museum in London. Recently, a collection of his work surfaced in the shoebox of a friend and former POW. These were featured on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow

Friday, December 23, 2011

Anniversary of the Fall of Wake Island

Wake Island (1942)
Within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Mitsubishi G3M medium bombers descended upon Wake Island. The “Island” was actually a strategically located group of islets under American administration in the central Pacific. Civil workers were constructing a U.S. Navy and Pam Am managed a hotel and a dock for its trans-Pacific flying boat. The next day a small armada of Japanese ships proceeded to shell the island and a landing was attempted.

For the next 16 days, until December 23, the small Marine garrison with the help of unprepared civilians stationed at Wake held off the Japanese invaders.

Often referred to as the Alamo of the Pacific, the battle is legend among the Marines. It was the only time during the Pacific War that a Japanese amphibious assault was repelled. The Wake Island Marines that December also offered the first sustained resistance to the Japanese juggernaut that had swept through the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. The battle was a rare example of success in the War's early months.

Throughout 1941, the U.S. Navy was constructing a base on Wake Island with civilian contractors from the Boise, Idaho firm of Morrison-Knudsen. Unfortunately, it was incomplete when the Japanese attacked in December. The first permanent military garrison, just under 400 men from the 1st Marine Defense Battalion, had arrived on August 19 commanded by Major James P.S. Devereux. The airfield was ready to take aircraft by December, and on December 4th, 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats from Marine Fighting Squadron VMF-211 arrived on Wake.

Marine Command Post
Naval Commander W.S. Cunningham had 449 Marines (including pilots), 68 U.S. Navy personnel, five Army Air Force Communications experts, 1,221 civilian workers from the Morrison-Knudsen Company, and 45 Chamorro men who worked for Pam Am to resist any Japanese attack. With the exception of the Marines, all were without arms or field equipment. Commander Cunningham had only reported for duty on November 28, 1941 as Officer in Charge, All Naval Activities, Wake Island.

The Japanese invasion force led by Rear Admiral Kajioka Sadamichi consisted of the light cruiser Yubari (flagship), six destroyers--Mutsuki, Kisaragi, Yayoi, Mochizuki, Oite, and Hayate--along with Patrol Boat No. 32 and Patrol Boat No. 33 (two ex-destroyers, each reconfigured in 1941 to launch a landing craft over a stern ramp) and two armed merchantmen, Kongo Maru and Kinryu Maru. To provide additional gunfire support the light cruisers Tatsuta and Tenryu joined the force. 

In the initial attack seven of the 12 Wildcat fighters were destroyed on the ground. However, the stationary naval battery was successful in sinking two Japanese destroyers (Hayate and Kisaragi) and damaging several other ships including the flagship Yubari. The remaining Wildcat fighters and the Marine’s beach defenses drove off the landing attempt.

Although the small U.S. force on the island repulsed the initial landing attempt, they were in serious need of additional supplies and support—which would never come. However, the Japanese would and did. On December 23rd, Rear Admiral Abe Koki's two fleet destroyers (Hiryu and Soryu) supported by heavy cruisers and destroyers (on the way back from Pearl Harbor) attacked. This second assault on Wake was successful.

American casualties numbered 52 military personnel (Navy and Marine) and approximately 70 civilians killed (including 10 Chamorros). Japanese losses exceeded 800 dead, with some estimates ranging as high as 1,000. Wake's defenders sank two Japanese destroyers and one submarine, and shot down 24 Japanese aircraft.

The Japanese took 368 Marine, 60 Navy, 5 Army, and 1,104 civilian personnel (including 35 Chamorros) prisoner after the surrender of Wake. Seventeen of the military prisoners died during their captivity, including 2 Marines and 3 sailors who were beheaded and thrown overboard from the Nitta Maru, en route from Yokohama to the POW camp near Shanghai. In Shanghai, two Chamorros were murdered. One hundred-eighty of the civilian prisoners died during their captivity, including 98 murdered on Wake in October of 1943. [It is difficult to confirm these numbers and I welcome documented corrections.]

Those Wake Island Defenders who were not sent to prisons in China became slave laborers throughout the Empire. Twice during his captivity in China, Commander Cunningham attempted to escape only to be recaptured. Major Devereux ended up in Hokkaido at the Hakodate #4, Nishi-Ashibetsu POW camp where after the war ended he was treated to a farewell dinner by nervous officials of the Mitsui Mining Company at the local Mitsui Company Clubhouse (See Here).

Soto Dam After 2010 Memorial
 Rededication Ceremony
Others, including all the Chamorros were at Sendai #11 Kamikita near Misawa. They were slave laborers for Nippon Kogyo (Nippon Mining, today’s JX Nippon Mining & Metals) working in an open pit iron mine. Of the civilian contractors, 265 were sent to build the Soto Dam at Sasebo where 53 died. The U.S. Navy holds an annual memorial to these men as the dam is near the Sasebo Naval Base. Former U.S. Navy journalist Phil Eakins successfully researched the names of the fallen and succeeded in 2010 to have a bronze plaque dedicated to them at the memorial.

Many started their stay in Japan at Tokyo 5D Kawasaki as slave laborers for Nihon Kokan (NKK Steel which is today’s JFE Holdings) stripping boats at a Mitsui dockyard (See POW Merchant Seaman David Wilson's memoir). And many ended up in the infamous Naoetsu in Niigata where Louis Zamperini immortalized by Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken was continually and capriciously tortured. POWs were slave laborers for Shinetsu Chemical and Nippon Stainless.

Battle of Wake Island Memorial
Dedication December 7, 2011
Earlier this month, on December 7th, a monument to the Wake Island Defenders was dedicated in Boise, Idaho’s Veterans Memorial Park. It was the inspiration of Eagle Scout candidate Noah Barnes whose great-grandfather was one of the Morrison-Knudsen contractors who died building the Soto Dam. It was not until 1981 that the civilian workers on Wake were granted military veterans status under the U.S. Air Force. The Chamorros were granted military veterans status in 1982 under the U.S. Navy.

A new documentary on the Battle of Wake Island is in the works. The heroism and spirit of Wake will not be forgotten.

Major Devereux returned to home (video of Devereux returning to Washington) and soon ran for Congress where he represented Maryland's Second District for most of the 1950s. The District's current congressman, Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) is not yet a co-sponsor of H. Res. 333, which honors the Wake Island defenders who became POWs of Japan.

Boise, Idaho's Congressman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) is also not yet a co-sponsor of H. Res. 333. Veterans are not listed among Mr. Labrador's "Featured Issues" on his congressional website. No effort was made by Congress to honor the 70th anniversary of the Wake Island defense.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A War Story

The above documentary, A War Story, is based on the diaries of Canadian doctor Ben Wheeler during his internment in the notorious Kinkaseki Japanese POW camp on Formosa (Taiwan). This docudrama was one of the first major projects of his daughter the noted Canadian filmaker Anne Wheeler. The film is comprised of newsreel footage, interviews and dramatic re-enactments.

His story and the story of Kinkaseki's horrors takes on special significance this month as Japan has recently offered an apology to the Canadians who were POWs of Imperial Japan. Copper mining at Kinkaseki was a classic example of death through work. The POWs were subjected to deliberate and systematic mistreatment at the hands of their captors. It is unfortunate and odd that Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba did not himself deliver the apology to the Canadian former POWs, as he had done just weeks before to the American and Australian POWs. Their suffering was no less.

Most Canadians became POWs with the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941. On that one day, 1,689 Canadians were captured by the Japanese. It is thought that 1,405 survived the hellships and camps in Hong Kong and Japan

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Salinas California's National Guard

M3 Stuart Tank Captured in 1942
December 13th was the 375th anniversary of the National Guard. The Massachusetts Bay Company in 1636 established militias of citizen-soldiers that could and would be called upon to fight when needed. These community units evolved into today's National Guard.

Three federalized National Guard units were the first to see action in World War II. They participated in the heroic defense of Bataan in the Philippines before finally surrendering to the Japanese in April 1942.

The 40th Tank Company (later Company C, 194th Tank Battalion) of Salinas, California was one of these National Guard units. Approximately 105 Salinas men (rosters vary) were sent to the Philippines in September 1941 as part of two U.S. Army light tank battalions to reinforce General Douglas MacArthur's forces defending the Philippine Islands. The men from Salinas, armed with antiquated weapons and under-trained, had the distinction of being the first U.S. Armored Force deployed overseas in what was soon to become the Pacific front in World War II.

When the war broke out on December 7, 1941 (December 8th in the Philippines), the company fought on Luzon. It was the last U.S. element to pull back to the Bataan Peninsula. Although outnumbered and without effective anti-personnel and anti-tank ammunition, Company C and other former National Guard Companies slowed the rate of the Japanese advance and delayed the ultimate loss of the Philippines. Their official After-Action Report is available by clicking here.

When American and Filipino forces surrendered on April 9, 1941, the survivors of the Battle for Bataan were forced to participate in the infamous Bataan Death March. Conservative estimates believe that 6,000-10,000 Filipino and 600-1000 U.S. soldiers died on the 65-mile forced march.  Three Presidential unit citations were awarded to the 40th Tank Company for outstanding performance in combat operations.

Burton Anderson in his illustrated history of the Salinas National Guard (1995) reports that of the 105 men he notes in his research as belonging to Company C only 47 returned home alive. Fifty-eight men died: most of whom died in their first months of captivity at Camp O'Donnell (4) and Cabanatuan (33). These men died of all manner of tropical diseases, abuse, and malnutrition.

Among the deaths, one man died on the Bataan Death March and two escaped to become guerrillas. They were, however, later captured and executed. Ten men died on Hellships to Japan (Arisan-maru: 6, Oryoku-maru: 1, Enoura-maru: 2, Brazil-maru: 1). (N.B.: We researched only the names that Mr. Anderson attached to his research. There are other lists, but it would take a professional military historian many months to untangle the inconsistencies.)

POW Memorial at Kinkaseki Dedicated November 2011
Eight men were taken to POW camps in Mukden, China (today's Shenyang) where one perished. Two where shipped to Formosa where one was a slave laborer in heavy construction at the Taihoku POW Camp and the other mined copper at the notorious Kinkaseki Mine Camp. Only 10 American POWs are documented as to having slaved been assigned to do slave labor in this mine, reportedly only toward the end of the war and at the closing of the mine. Researchers believe that more than 1,100 POWs were held at the Kinkaseki camp between 1942 and 1945.

Cave-ins, injury, disease, malnutrition, and executions made Kinkaseki one of the worst of Japan's POW camps. Fewer than 100 of the Allied prisoners held at Kinkaseki are believed to have survived to war's end. The mine was owned by Nippon Mining Company, today's JX Nippon Mining & Metals Corp. of JX Holdings. You can access the Hong Kong War Crimes trial documents of military officers responsible for the atrocities at Kinkaseki HERE.

Thirty-eight men were shipped to Japan on Hellships to become slave laborers at 13 different companies at 18 camps on Japan's main islands. Two men died in the POW camps. Below we identify the best we can, with the resources available, the camps and companies where the men of Salinas were held in Japan.

Sendai 6-B: Hanawa (Osarizawa)
POWs: 3 survived
Labor: Copper mining
Company: Mitsubishi Goushi Company [三菱合資会社]
Company Today: Mitsubishi Materials (Mitsubishi Material Kabushiki Kaisha, 三菱マテリアル株式会社)

Sendai 7-B: Hanaoka
POWs: 2 survived
Labor: Copper mining
Company: Fujita-gumi Construction Company
Company Today: Dowa Holdings Co., Ltd. (DOWA Holdings Kabushiki Kaisha, DOWA ホールディングス株式会社)

Tokyo 1-B: Kawasaki
POWs: 1 survived
Labor: Slave labor in Kawasaki shipyard
Company: Nippon Tsuun
Company Today: Nippon Express Company, Limited (Nippon Tsuun Kabushikigaisha, 日本通運株式会社)

Tokyo 5-B: Niigata
POWs: 1 survived 
Labor: Stevedore, foodstuffs and coal, labor at a foundry
Company: Niigata Kairiku Unso
Company Today: Rinko Corporation (Kabushikigaisha Rinko Corporation, 株式会社リンコーコーポレーション) *Niigata Kairiku Unso Merged to Rinko Corporation in 1960

Tokyo 16-B: Kanose
POWs: 2 survived 
Labor: Slave labor in a carbide mill, manufacture of carbon rods
Company: Showa Denko
Company Today: Showa Denko K.K. (Showa Denko Kabushikigaisha, 昭和電工株式会社)


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Palawan Massacre December 14, 1944

Palawan Grave 1945
In May 1945, Acting Secretary of State and former US Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew protested to the Japanese government “the brutal massacre of one hundred fifty prisoners of war at Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines Islands, by the personnel of Ogawa [Toru Ogawa, a company commander in the 131st Airfield Battalion] Tai Construction Corps.”

He angrily charged, ”Such barbaric behavior on the part of the Japanese armed forces is an offense to all civilized people.” His reprimand barely captures the awfulness of the Palawan Massacre in the Philippines on December 14, 1944.

So graphically horrific was the Palawan Massacre that it is the opening scene for movie The Great Raid. Japanese troops are shown drenching American POWs with gasoline and then setting them afire in air raid dugouts. As the men inside burned, the Japanese threw in hand grenades and gunned down or bayoneted any man trying to escape from the burning shelters.

Nevertheless, a lucky few did escape. Their descriptions of the Palawan Massacre confirmed intercepted Japanese cables that contained orders to kill all surviving POWs before American troops advanced. The orders stated:
(a) Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of them as the situation dictates.
(b) In any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.
At Palawan, the commanding officers did what they could to obey the order. Though the exact numbers of murdered POWs and survivors may never be known, the best estimates are that 139 men were killed and 11 men survived. Lorna Nielson Murray, the daughter of a Palawan Massacre survivor, has compiled a roster of the victims and survivors, along with the names of 8 men whose status is unclear. This year (2011), POW researcher Jim Erickson has refined the roster of those on Palawan.

News of the Massacre prompted the U.S. to hastily organize a series of rescue missions in 1945 to liberate both military and civilian prisoners held by the Japanese on the Philippines. The Great Raid of Cabanatuan POW camp was one of them. An elite squad of American Rangers and Filipino guerillas (Alamo Scouts and members of the 6th Ranger Battalion) cooperated with local Filipinos to liberate 489 POWs and 33 civilians. (492 Americans, 23 British, three Dutch, two Norwegians, one Canadian, and one Filipino).

Previously, in 1943, reports of the desperate, sub-human conditions at Japan’s POW camps had prompted the U.S. and other Allied Nations to secretly transfer millions of dollars to a Swiss bank account for Japan to care for the POWs. Tokyo, however, ignored the agreement and used the interest in the account to buy Swiss cannons. Strangely, the Japanese count the return of these Allied funds as part of their reparations for prisoners of war.

Many from the 59th U.S. Army Coast Artillery who helped defend Corregidor died on Palawan. Others were from the 4th Marines who also fought on Corregidor. One was a member of the Janesville 99 and had survived the Bataan Death March. They were all part of 300 POWs brought to Palawan in late 1942 to build an airfield. The POWs suffered years of disease, hunger, and emotional and physical abuse at the hands of their captors before their murder.

Shortly before he died in 2004, Palawan survivor Marine Corporal Glen McDole released a book called Last Man Out recounting his experiences as a POW and his escape from the Palawan Massacre. This first-hand account provides a stunning narrative about the horrors and abuses suffered by POWs at the hands of the Japanese, as well as his eye-witness account of the massacre itself. An oral history by Mr. McDole is HERE.

He describes watching in hiding five or six Japanese soldiers torture with their bayonets a wounded American:
I could see the bayonets draw blood when they poked him. Another Jap came up with some gasoline and a torch, and I heard the American beg them to shoot him and not to burn him. The Jap threw some gasoline on his foot and lit it, and the other Japs laughed and poked him with their bayonets. Then they did the same thing to his other foot and to his hand. When the man collapsed, the Japs then threw the whole bucket of gasoline over him, and he burst into flames.
In 2009, a monument to the victims and survivors of the massacre was erected in Palawan, listing the names of the U.S. POWs and recounting their tragic story. The top of the monument is a sculpture of an emaciated American man in chains rising from a fire, symbolizing the oppression of the POWs and the miraculous escape of the 11 survivors.

On March 23, 1949, Toru Ogawa, a company commander in the 131st Airfield Battalion who was charged with abusing 300 POWs and causing the death of 138 prisoners by ordering subordinates to massacre them by surprise assault and treacherous violence, and killing them by various methods, received his sentence of two years' hard labor, reduced by 9 1/2 months for time served.

Palawan was eventually liberated by U.S. forces in March 1945, where the Americans found evidence of the massacre, including the burned dugouts, charred remains, and mangled skeletons. In 1952, the remains of 123 of the victims were moved to a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Canadian Prisoners of War Receive Apology from Japanese Government

Dr. Lester Tenney's courage in November 2008 to bring to the attention of the Japanese Ambassador to the US Ichiro Fujisaki the pain and humiliation felt by American as well as all prisonors of war of Japan was historic.  His efforts have brought about apologies and visitation programs for POWs not only for Americans, but also for Australians and now Canadians.

Japanese Foreign Ministers have twice this year delivered apologies to delegations of Australian POWs. The first visited Japan in March and the second in late November. The latter delegation included the first woman POW on an official delegation, 96-year old Nurse Lorna Johnston.

Below is the Press Release issued by Canada's Ministry of Veterans Affairs announcing Japan's first apology to the POWs of Canada. Unlike for the American and Australian POWs, the apology was not delivered by Japan's Foreign Minister in front of the press. Instead, it was presented in private by Japan's Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Toshiyuki Kato. Further, the trip was paid for by the Canada's Ministry of Veteran's Affairs and not the Government of Japan.

The apology wording was the same as the one given to the American and Australian POWs, which is a slight rewording of the 1995 general war apology by Prime Minister Murayama--the only official government apology for the war. The critical phrase "damage and suffering" is a direct quote from the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Hong Kong Memorial Wall, Ottawa, Canada
The Canadians were involved the defense of Hong Kong in 1941. Approximately 290 Canadian soldiers were killed in battle and, while in captivity, approximately 264 more died as POWs, for a total death toll of 554. In addition, almost 500 Canadians were wounded. Of the 1,975 Canadians who went to Hong Kong, more than 1,050 were either killed or wounded. This was a casualty rate of more than 50%, arguably one of the highest casualty rates of any Canadian theater of action in the Second World War.

Still missing are the apologies from the Japanese companies that purchased these American, Canadian, and Australian POWs to labor in the factories, mines, and on their docks. As one Canadian POW noted, the apology is "most important to the Japanese" as he hopes "this apology will open up the Japanese secrecy over their treatment of (POWs) during World War 2 in 14 of their captured nations." He added: "I don't think they can go on and be a healthy culture by hiding this terrible past of theirs."

December 8, 2011
Canadian Prisoners of War Receive Apology from Japanese Government

Ottawa — The Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Veterans Affairs, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today recognized the heartfelt apology from the Government of Japan to former Canadian prisoners of war (POWs) for their suffering during the Second World War. The apology was delivered earlier today in Tokyo by Mr. Toshiyuki KATO, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs.

“It is my honour to join Canadian prisoners of war in acknowledging the apology by the Japanese Government for the treatment and suffering of prisoners of war under Japanese control during the Second World War,” said Minister Blaney. “This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war. It acknowledges their suffering while honouring their sacrifices and courage.”

“The terrible pain and heavy burden of the Second World War have given way to a mutually beneficial, respectful relationship between Canada and Japan as mature democracies—a legacy of all who served in the Pacific campaigns,” said Minister Baird. “Today’s apology will help in healing as our two great countries move forward.”

On Christmas Day 1941, unable to fight any longer, the Allies had no choice but to surrender. During 17 and a half days of fighting, 290 Canadians were killed and 493 were wounded while trying to defend Hong Kong.

Those who survived the heavy fighting were imprisoned in prisoner of war camps in Hong Kong and Japan until Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945. For nearly four years, the Canadians were subjected to deliberate and systematic mistreatment at the hands of their captors.

The prisoners of war were forced into backbreaking labour in construction sites, mines, shipyards and foundries, and were frequently beaten and starved. Another 267 men died in the camps before the survivors were liberated. Many of those who returned to Canada suffered serious disabilities as a result of their experiences in Hong Kong, and many died prematurely.

Minister Blaney led a delegation of Canadian Veterans of the Battle of Hong Kong to Japan for the apology and a commemorative ceremony, and visited the graves of Canadian soldiers at the British Commonwealth Cemetery – Yokohama.

For more information on Canada’s contribution in Hong Kong, visit the Veterans Affairs Canada Web site at

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Remembering Pearl Harbor

     In the wake of the bombing of our harbor and the crippling of our Pacific Fleet, there were those who declared the United States had been reduced to a third-class power. But rather than break the spirit of our Nation, the attack brought Americans together and fortified our resolve. Patriots across our country answered the call to defend our way of life at home and abroad. They crossed oceans and stormed beaches, freeing millions from the grip of tyranny and proving that our military is the greatest force for liberty and security the world has ever known. On the home front, dedicated civilians supported the war effort by repairing wrecked battleships, working in factories, and joining civilian defense organizations to help with salvage programs and plant Victory gardens. At this time of great strife, we reminded the world there is no challenge we cannot meet; there is no challenge we cannot overcome.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (excerpt)

For Americans, December 7, 1941 will forever be ‘a date which will live in infamy.’ Our entire nation mobilized to assist the ensuing war effort. From war bonds to building our fighter aircraft, the country was united and the ‘greatest generation’ defeated forces of evil and successfully defended freedom and democracy.

Our American forbearers were brave and strong in the face of adversity. But the larger lesson of Pearl Harbor is that we need to remain steadfast and forthright in our defense of liberty and human rights. Brutal regimes and lawless nations should not be coddled or appeased.

JAPANESE DIPLOMACY AND MILITARY MANEUVERING PRIOR TO THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR. 12/5, 12:30-1:45, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Sigur Center, GWU. Speaker: Takeo Iguchi, Former Ambassador; Professor Emeritus, Shobi-Gakuen University.

THE CAPTAIN ELLIS ZACHARIAS AND PEARL HARBOR ATTACK. 11:00am, Washington, DC. Sponsor: National Archives. Speaker: David Pfeiffer, archivist; discusses the intelligence officer featured in his article “Sage Prophet or Loose Cannon?” published in Prologue magazine. (The lecture will be repeated at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

FREEDOM BETRAYED: HERBERT HOOVER'S SECRET HISTORY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH. 12/6, Noon-1:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speakers: George Nash, author, historian, book offers a revisionist reexamination of the war and its Cold War aftermath and a sweeping indictment of the “lost statesmanship” of Franklin Roosevelt.

PEARL HARBOR CHRISTMAS: A WORLD AT WAR, DECEMBER 1941. 12/7, Noon-3:00pm, Washington, DC. Author and historian Stanley Weintraub will present his latest work– an exploration of the wartime strategies that were developed in Washington while the rest of America attempted to celebrate the holiday season. Each chapter, written in pristine detail, coincides with the last ten days of 1941 and the first day of the New Year. Following the presentation, Weintraub will be available for a Q&A and book signing. 

1:00pm - Guests are invited for a subsequent wreath laying ceremony with the U.S. Navy Band and Ceremonial Guard on the Memorial’s outdoor plaza.

2:00pm - In addition, the Navy Memorial welcomes local veteran survivors and witnesses of the attack for a panel discussion led by noted historian Paul Stillwell, author of Air Raid: Pearl Harbor! Recollections of a Day of Infamy. Panel members will include former U.S. Navy Memorial President and CEO Rear Admiral Edward K. Walker USN (Ret), who witnessed the battle as the young son of a submarine officer stationed at Pearl Harbor.

PACIFIC GIBRALTAR: US-JAPANESE RIVALRY OVER THE ANNEXATION OF HAWAII 1885-1889. 12/7, Noon-1:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: National Archive. Speakers: William Michael Morgan, author, discusses his book Pacific Gibraltar and the results of the Japan–U.S. crisis of 1897, when the Japanese sent warships to Honolulu to oppose the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States during the Spanish-American War. As Japan began pushing for voting rights for its nationals living and working on the islands, tensions rose between the two countries. A book signing will follow the program.

IN THE LAST GOOD WAR: THE FACES AND VOICES OF WORLD WAR II. 12/7, Noon–1:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: National Portrait Gallery. Speaker: Thomas Sanders combines imagery and narrative to tell the story of the courageous men and women who accomplished extraordinary feats in defense of freedom. This book provides a unique window into American history and the lasting legacy of World War II veterans.

PEARL HARBOR CHRISTMAS.12/7, 6:00–7:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: National Portrait Gallery. Speaker: Stanley Weintraub marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor with a talk in the exhibition, followed by a signing of his new book Pearl Harbor Christmas.

“It Is No Joke—It Is a Real War”: HOW AMERICANS FIRST LEARNED OF PEARL HARBOR. 12/7, 7:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: National Archives. Speaker: Marvin Kalb, journalist. uses film, audio, and photographic records from the National Archives and the Newseum to discuss how the media informed Americans of the 1941 attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Fighting for MacArthur, the Navy and Marine Corps' Desperate Defense of the Philippines. 12/15, Noon-1:00pm, Naval War College Museum, Newport, Rhode Island. Author, John Gordon discusses his new book, which is the only single-volume work to offer a full account of Navy and Marine Corps actions in the Philippines during World War II. This book provides a unique source of information on the early part of the war. It is filled with never-before-published details about the fighting based on a rich collection of American and newly discovered Japanese sources, and it includes a revealing discussion of the buildup of tensions between Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the Navy that continued for the remainder of the war.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Janesville 99

Photo by Cliff of Janesville Memorial
Janesville, Wisconsin was home to Company “A” of the 192nd Tank Battalion during World War II. The Battalion was made up of four former National Guard units that were mobilized in November 1940. One company was from Janesville, Wisconsin; one from Port Clinton, Ohio; one from Maywood, Illinois; and one from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Company “A” is known as the “Janesville 99.”

These men, from the 32nd Divisional Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard, trained at Janesville’s town Armory prior to the War. They were deployed to the Philippines in November 1941 and arrived at Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Field on Thanksgiving Day. On December 8th, Japan bombed Clark destroying the Army Air Corps on the Philippines and by January 7, 1942 Company "A" had retreated onto the Bataan peninsula.

For the next three months, out-gunned and under-supplied, they fought the Battle of Bataan against a substantial Japanese invasion force. They were surrendered by their commanding officers on April 9th and forced onto the infamous Bataan Death March—65 miles of Hell.

Only 35 of original Janesville 99 returned after the War. Two-thirds perished as prisoners of Japan. Two were killed in combat, and one died on the Bataan Death March. Japanese brutality, malfeasance, and torture killed the others. They died from disease, dehydration and starvation all over Asia: Camp O’Donnell, Cabanatuan, Formosa, Moji, Mukden, Palawan. One was among the five of the 192nd Battalion who were murdered in the fire set by the Kempeitai in the December 1944 Palawan Massacre. Fifteen men died when their unmarked POW transport ships were bombed or torpedoed by American forces.

Many of the men were lost at sea or buried in mass graves. They are among those on the tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila. The film, Price Of Freedom: In the Hands of the Enemy, poignantly documents the history of the Janesville 99 (the website includes a clip of the film).

Gavan Daws, in his seminal book Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific, highlights the POW experiences of Forrest Knox, a Janesville soldier. Forrest and his brother Henry were among the few who returned home alive. In the suffocating hold of the Hell Ship Hokusen (Haro) Maru, Forrest had to kill men to stay alive. It was one of the longest Hell Ship vogages of the War. Too often, Forrest hallucinated later seeing his dead friends walking on Janesville’s streets.

On the corner of Milwaukee and Franklin Streets in Janesville is the Lions Club WWI plaza. Joining the WWI Memorial is a stele topped with a tank “in fulfillment of a pledge by the Tank C Company boys to their comrades on Bataan.” This memorial installed in 1947 lists both those who died and those who returned home. It personalized the War and focused its story on its individuals.

Significantly, as historian John Bodnar notes, the memorial does “not represent the full scope of how this particular war experience was remembered.” No memorial captures the extent of the suffering and mistreatment of the local soldiers both during the War and after they came home.  In large part, the men were abandoned by the War Department and Veterans Administration and their wartime traumas misunderstood. The listing of former resident's names brought the war and its sadness into the community. In many ways, the memorial affirmed “that the wartime generation had grave reservations about the struggle and its costs and tried to say as as much in whatever public space it could find” (Ibid., 156).

Outside the Janesville Armory
The Armory where the Janesville 99 were mustered remains. It is two and a half blocks from the memorial mentioned above. Built in 1930, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is now a dinner theater. The building features a stunning array of brickwork, terrazzo floors and decorative iron. The building’s exterior has been preserved to retain its historical significance. A simple plaque erected in 1990 commemorating the history of Company A stands outside the Armory.

On August 3, 2012 the last man from Company "A" died: Albert Joseph DuBois. He was a slave laborer for Mitsui mining coals at Fukuoka #17 POW camp in Omuta.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), from Janesville and head of the House of Representative’s powerful Budget Committee is a co-sponsor of H Res 333.

Monday, November 21, 2011

H Res 333 Still Needs to Pass

Janesville, WI, Bataan Mother's Auxiliary
Never give up hope
Despite the passage of the Senate Resolution 333, the U.S. House of Representatives have yet to move on H. Res. 333. These are two separate bills, in two separate chambers needing two separate votes. The House bill remains in the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is a coincidence that the bills are the same number.

New Cosponsors (our new heroes!) are:

Rep Baca, Joe [D-CA-43]
Rep Bishop, Timothy H.  [D- NY-1]
Rep Cardoza, Dennis A. [D-CA-18]
Rep Hultgren, Randy [R-IL-14] 
Rep Rush, Bobby L. [D-IL-1]
Rep Ryan, Paul [R-WI-1] 

Friday, November 18, 2011

US Senate Passes S Res 333

On the evening of Thursday, November 17th, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent S. Res 333 co-sponsored by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK). The text is as follows:

Welcoming and commending the Government of Japan for extending an official apology to all United States former prisoners of war from the Pacific War and establishing in 2010 a visitation program to Japan for surviving veterans, family members, and descendants.

Whereas the United States and Japan have enjoyed a productive and successful peace for over six decades, which has nurtured a strong and critical alliance and deep economic ties that are vitally important to both countries, the Asia-Pacific region, and the world; Whereas the United States-Japan alliance is based on shared interests, responsibilities, and values and the common support for political and economic freedoms, human rights, and international law;

Whereas the United States-Japan alliance has been maintained by the contributions and sacrifices of members of the United States Armed Forces dedicated to Japan’s defense and democracy;

Whereas, from December 7, 1941, to August 15, 1945, the Pacific War caused profound damage and suffering to combatants and noncombatants alike;

Whereas, among those who suffered and sacrificed greatly were the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who were captured by Imperial Japanese forces during the Pacific War;

Whereas many United States prisoners of war were subject to brutal and inhumane conditions and forced labor;

Whereas, according to the Congressional Research Service, an estimated 27,000 United States prisoners of war were held by Imperial Japanese forces and nearly 40 percent perished;

Whereas the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor and its subsequent Descendants Group have worked tirelessly to represent the thousands of United States veterans who were held by Imperial Japanese forces as prisoners of war during the Pacific War;

Whereas, on May 30, 2009, an official apology from the Government of Japan was delivered by Japan’s Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki to the last convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor stating, ‘‘Today, I would like to convey to you the position of the government of Japan on this issue. As former Prime Ministers of Japan have repeatedly stated, the Japanese people should bear in mind that we must look into the past and to learn from the lessons of history. We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of wars, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula, Corregidor Island, in the Philippines, and other places.’’;

Whereas, in 2010, the Government of Japan through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a new program of remembrance and understanding that, for the first time, includes United States former prisoners of war and their family members or other caregivers by inviting them to Japan for exchange and friendship;

Whereas six United States former prisoners of war, each of whom was accompanied by a family  member, and two descendants of prisoners of war participated in Japan’s first Japanese/American POW Friendship Program from September 12, 2010, to September 19, 2010;

Whereas Japan’s Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on September 13, 2010, apologized to all United States former prisoners of war on behalf of the Government of Japan stating, ‘‘You have all been through hardships during World War II, being taken prisoner by the Japanese military, and suffered extremely inhumane treatment. On behalf of the Japanese government and as the foreign minister, I would like to offer you my heartfelt apology.’’;

Whereas Foreign Minister Okada stated that he expects the former prisoners of war exchanges with the people of Japan will ‘‘become a turning point in burying their bitter feelings about the past and establishing a better relationship between Japan and the United States’’;

Whereas Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama on September 13, 2010, apologized to United States former prisoners of war for the ‘‘immeasurable damage and suffering’’ they experienced;

Whereas the participants of the first Japanese/American POW Friendship Program appreciated the generosity and hospitality they received from the Government and people of Japan during the Program and welcomed the apology offered by Foreign Minister Okada and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuyama;

Whereas the participants encourage the Government of Japan to continue this program of visitation and friendship and expand it to support projects for remembrance, documentation, and education; and

Whereas the United States former prisoners of war of Japan still await apologies and remembrance from the successor firms of those private entities in Japan that, in violation of the Third Geneva Convention and in unmerciful conditions, used their labor for economic gain to sustain war production:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate

(1) welcomes and commends the Government of Japan for extending an official apology to all United States former prisoners of war from the Pacific War and establishing in 2010 a visitation program to Japan for surviving veterans, their families, and descendants;

(2) appreciates the recent efforts by the Govrnment of Japan toward historic apologies for the maltreatment of United States former prisoners of war;

(3) requests that the Government of Japan continue its new Japanese/American POW Friendship
3 Program of reconciliation and remembrance and expand it to educate the public and its school children about the history of prisoners of war in Imperial Japan;

(4) requests that the Government of Japan respect the wishes and sensibilities of the United States former prisoners of war by supporting and encouraging programs for lasting remembrance and
11 reconciliation that recognize their sacrifices, history, and forced labor;

(5) acknowledges the work of the Department of State in advocating for the United States prisoners of war from the Pacific War; and

(6) applauds the persistence, dedication, and patriotism of the members and descendants of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor fo their pursuit of justice and lasting peace.


Historians of Japan's apologies will find it interesting that Japan's "friends" in the Senate insisted that the Resolution's "Resolved" clauses do not reference Japanese "war crimes." Clause 2 does not thank Japan for its apologies for its war crimes, but instead simply states its "historic apologies for the maltreatment of US POWs." This refusal to acknowledge that Imperial Japan was responsible for war crimes is in keeping the Japanese government view that the war crimes trials had no legal standing. 

The current Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda has publicly agreed with a common misconception that Japanese leaders convicted of war crimes, such as crimes against humanity, at the end of World War II were not criminals under domestic law. He has also noted that they and others convicted of general war crimes were exonerated when they were pardoned in the mid-1950s. This view contradicts Japan's agreement to accept the Postsdam Declaration and the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Also missing from the final bill is a "Resolved" clause request for Japan's corporations that used POW slave labor to follow the example of their government by issuing their own apologies. This too was lobbied out by Japanese interests. Whereas Japan's Foreign Ministry argues that it cannot tell Japan's companies what to do, they seem to be able to defend these very same companies.

These views of Japan's war history and practice of shirking responsibility are clearly a national policy protected by Japan's embassies worldwide. What is troubling is that there are U.S. senators willing to pander to this ahistorical policy at the expense of America's veterans.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An American Tradition

All Fishermen, all Cultivators of the Earth, and all Artizans, or manufacturers unarmed and inhabiting unfortified Towns, Villages or Places, who labour for the common Subsistence and Benefit of Mankind, and peaceably follow their respective Employments, shall be allowed to continue the same, and shall not be molested by the Armed Force of the Enemy.
With these poetic words, Benjamin Franklin proclaimed a radical ideal: that civilians—especially those whose labors help feed and clothe their neighbors—should be left alone by invading armies.

Franklin, who had been sent to France to negotiate an end to the Revolutionary War, tried to include this language in the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the war with the British in 1783. But the British rejected Franklin’s humanitarian invention. Not until 1785, in a pact with Prussia, did Franklin and other American negotiators succeed in securing wartime protections for humble working people.

As he was waiting for the British decision in 1783, the elderly statesman was negotiating commercial treaties with Portugal and Denmark, which were never ratified. Yale researchers have now discovered that those deals also included the landmark language safeguarding civilians—a fact Franklin had kept secret. “Without telling [fellow negotiator John] Adams or Congress, he slipped in this article,” explains Ellen Cohn, editor of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin project at Yale. The project, cosponsored by the American Philosophical Society, aims to edit and publish all of Franklin’s writings; it was founded in 1954 and has so far produced 39 of a projected 47 volumes.

Because Franklin told no one about his clandestine efforts, and made no written record of them, Cohn turned to the Danish National Archives for an account of his “deft and complex negotiating strategies.” She tells the story in Volume 40 of Franklin’s papers, which will be published in December.

Eventually, the Geneva Conventions enshrined civilian protections in international law. It was one of Franklin’s dearest wishes. “He wanted this to be universal,” Cohn says.

He once wrote, in a letter to a friend: “I should be happy if I could see before I die, the proposed Improvement of the Law of Nations established. The Miseries of Mankind would be diminished by it; and the Happiness of Millions secured and promoted.”

No More Raping and Pillaging: Franklin’s negotiations for decency in wartime.
Yale Alumni Magazine, November/December 2011
by Carole Bass ’83, ’97MSL

USS Houston CA-30

In barely an hour of fierce nighttime fighting on February 28, 1942 against a massive Japanese invasion force, the heavy cruiser USS Houston CA-30 and most of its crew lay at the bottom of Bantam Bay in the Dutch East Indies. The ship’s captain was killed during this Battle of Sundra Strait and only 368 of the total complement of 1011 men of the USS Houston managed to reach shore. With the sinking of the Houston, the US Asiatic Fleet came to an end.

The Houston and the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth were the only vessels to survive the previous day’s Battle of the Java Sea where 12 Allied ships were lost. Both ships were sunk in the Battle of Sundra Strait. In all the Houston took four to six torpedoes, three entire salvos, eleven individual hits and additional hits that may have been shells or torpedoes. Every source mentions her flag was flying as she sank, perhaps quoting an account by a crewman: " . . .a sudden breeze picked up the Stars and Stripes still firmly two blocked on the mainmast, and waved them in one last defiant gesture."

The surviving crews of both ships dodged machine gun fire to make their way to shore. There they became prisoners of war of Japan. All ended up being sent to build the Thai-Burma Death Railway.

The building of the railway will forever be remembered through the movie Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which opens with a bare-chested William Holden as former USS Houston sailor on burial detail at a Japanese POW camp in Burma. None of the starved and beaten sailors toiling on the railway ever looked as hale as Holden and none remember a single act of kindness from their Japanese captors. See the account by Otto Schwarz.

One of the best books on the USS Houston is Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston CA-30, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors by James D. Hornfischer. A newer movie on being a POW on the Burma railway is To End All Wars (2001) stared Keifer Sutherland.

On Thursday, November 17, 2011 (11:00am) the USS Houston Survivors Association and Next Generation  will unveil  a new display case for a refurbished 14-foot model of the USS Houston CA-30 exhibited at The National Museum of the US Navy.  The public is invited. 

UPDATE: You can see for yourself what a "grand day" the unveiling of the USS Houston CA-30 was if you visit the Navy Historical Foundation's websiteOver the past 17 months, the Curator of Ship Models with Navy Sea Systems Command, Dana Wegner and his staff, spent hundreds of hours refurbishing the 1929 vintage model of the Northampton-class cruiser USS Houston. Their hard word certainly paid off and was much appreciated. Three survivors participated, Raymond Kester, Howard Brooks, and David Flynn. You can find pictures on the site of the ship model, its new case, and the dedication's participants.

There are nine congresspeople from Houston, the namesake of the ship. In Sam Houston Park there is a memorial monument to the men of the USS Houston. It was dedicated on Veterans Day 1995. Only one, Al Green (D-TX-9) has become a co-sponsor of H.Res. 333 honoring these brave men. Write and tell these members of congress how disappointed you are.

USS Houston Memorial
Kevin Brady, (R-TX-8)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Appeal to Japan

Japanese Companies Used American POWs as Slave Labor
- Where’s Their Apology?

by Ms. Kinue Tokudome

"If you don’t mind, please tell us how our wartime colleagues treated you because we want to learn."

It was a magical and decisive moment when these words were uttered by Takashi Toriyama, the Director of Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. (JMC)’s Takaoka Works. I immediately realized the significance of his words and how much they meant to two aging former POWs who made the long trip from the U.S. to this small city near the Sea of Japan to visit the company.

It was not the first time for Harold Bergbower (91) and James Collier (88) to be in Takaoka, Japan. In the spring of 1942, both became POWs of the Japanese in the Philippines in what turned out to be the largest surrender in American military history. They were among 150 American POWs who were brought to Takaoka from the Philippines on September 8, 1944 to become forced laborers for JMC’s predecessor company, Hokkai Denka. They were to be joined by 150 British POWs in May of 1945.

Just liberated POWs at Takaoka Nomachi camp
Mr. Bergbower 4th from the right on the 5th row, Mr. Collier far left on the 2nd row

Their twelve hour-a-day work was grueling—shoveling, mixing of ore, and carrying the ore to open furnaces without any safety measures. Very little food and medical care was provided. Any violation of the rules met with severe punishment. By the end of the war, eleven American POWs and two British POWs had died due to the horrible conditions.

Bergbower and Collier were among seven former American POWs who were invited to Japan through the Japanese/POW Friendship Program (a program started in 2010 with the goal of promoting mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the U.S.) funded by the Japanese government. The delegation had just arrived in Japan two days earlier on October 16, each being accompanied by one family member.

Both Bergbower and Collier had reservations on returning to their former campsite as the memories of their hardship still haunted them after more than 66 years. They did not know how they would react upon returning to Takaoka and meeting with JMC’s officials. But Bergbower had decided that he would meet the succeeding generation of Japan and the new management of the company with the hopes that dialogue would help put his ill feelings from the past behind him. Indeed, he had come back to Japan in the mid-50s as a member of the U.S. Air Force to train the newly created Japan Air Self-Defense Force. He and his family had enjoyed their stay in Japan, but could not bring himself to visit Takaoka as the memory of being a forced laborer was still too painful.

Collier, a retired teacher and guidance counselor, was torn over his decision as to whether he should join the program. Would he have a flashback of the moment when he thought he was about to be executed? Would he be able to control his emotions? But in the end, like Bergbower, he decided to give the visit a chance with the hopes of some good coming out of it.

Now, with this question posed by Mr. Toriyama, these two men found themselves in an almost inconceivable position. An official of the successor company to the one that had enslaved them wanted to learn and hear how his predecessors had treated them! It seemed that all the reservations and trepidations they had had before the trip disappeared at this crucial moment.

Coincidentally, internment and slave labor struck close to home for Mr. Toriyama. His late father, who was interned in Siberia after WWII, had also been forced to perform hard labor in very harsh conditions. When he learned from the Japanese Foreign Ministry about the possibility of two former POWs wanting to visit his company, his response was certain. He confessed to Bergbower and Collier that he felt as if they were his own father. How could he not want to meet them and listen to their stories?

Debra Bergbower-Grunwald, the daughter of Bergbower, described what followed this initial exchange at JMC when she spoke at the National Press Club in Tokyo a few days later:

Whatever politicians do is formal. But the true peace that I saw on Tuesday and the friendship that happened between generations—between the generation from the Japanese Metals Company in Takaoka, Toyama, and these two gentlemen, Mr. Jim Collier and my father Harold Bergbower, sitting down at a small table, drawing a diagram, and discussing what the camp history was in 1944. And those men laughing and talking and communicating—that was where the friendship was. This was the peace that happened on Tuesday afternoon. And this peace of mind helped and is helping my father at the age of 91. I want to thank the Japanese government for helping my father with this.
(Entire proceeding of the POW Press Conference)

Takashi Toriyama, the Director of Japan Metals & Chemicals’ Takaoka Works (in blue uniform), listens as Harold Bergbower and Jim Collier speak about their POW experience

What led up to this decisive moment? What made this remarkable trip possible?

During World War II, some 27,000 American soldiers became POWs of the Japanese, of which 40 percent perished while in captivity. Many died while being forced to work for some 60 private Japanese companies such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Nippon Steel, Kawasaki, and Hitachi. Yet there has been very little effort to promote understanding and dialogue on the history of American POWs of the Japanese between the people of the two nations, at least until recently.

But it is well known among those who were interested in the history of Allied POWs of the Japanese that the Japanese government has been inviting former British and Dutch POWs to Japan for many years to promote reconciliation. According to an official report the Japanese government has conducted the following programs between 1995 and 2005:

Invited 784 former British POWs and their families (approximately $7.5 million spent)
Invited 425 former Dutch POWs and their families (approximately $5.8 million spent)

The report further mentioned that these programs would continue as they might deem necessary. Indeed, the Japanese government kept spending a substantial amount of money on the continuation of these programs past 2005.

But former American POWs were completely excluded from these programs for almost fifteen years, even though they suffered very similar experience at the hands of the Japanese.

In early 2006, I twice asked the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. about this exclusion. I received a reply dated on May 17, 2006, which stated:
While our feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology are no different towards British, Dutch and American POWs, the circumstance surrounding the POWs are different with each country and no similar program currently exists for the former American POWs.
This was the beginning of the pursuit for equal treatment for former American POWs. A free trip to Japan was of little consequence to them. What infuriated these former POWs the most was the way they were again treated by the Japanese as unworthy of respect. They were reminded of what they had been told by the Japanese military in the Philippines—“You are lower than a dog.”

Dr. Lester Tenney, a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March and one of the leaders of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a national organization of former POWs of the Japanese, started writing letters to anyone he thought could help rectify this unfair treatment of American POWs—the president, the American ambassador to Japan, the secretary of state, members of Congress, the Japanese prime minister, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials, members of the Japanese Diet, and many media outlets in both countries.

For several years, nothing ensued, although some members of the Japanese Diet became sympathetic to Dr. Tenney’s fight. In June of 2008, Dr. Tenney traveled to Japan to personally appeal to Japanese politicians and the Japanese people. While he was able to meet with some members of the Japanese Diet and received good publicity in Japan, his request for a meeting with a representative of the Japanese government was declined.

Upper House member Azuma Konno, Upper House President Satsuki Eda
and Upper House member Yukihisa Fujita welcome Dr. Tenney and Betty Tenney

Finally, a breakthrough came on Veterans Day, 2008 when Dr. Tenney was invited by Japanese ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki to his official residence in Washington D.C. Why it happened when it happened is probably unimportant. All that mattered is that Dr. Tenney, now the last National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (the organization was to be disbanded the following year due to dwindling membership and failing health of surviving POWs) finally met an official representative of the Japanese government. It took 63 years for this meeting to take place.

Dr. Tenney always believed in face-to-face dialogue. He knew that the best way to deal with Ambassador Fujisaki was to be himself. No strategy was needed. He simply requested three things:
1) An apology from the Japanese government.
2) An apology from those Japanese companies that enslaved American POWs.
3) An invitation program for Former American POWs and their families

The ambassador promised that he would relay these requests to Tokyo and get back to Dr. Tenney, to which Dr. Tenney responded, “Even if the answers are negative, I would rather know them soon. Please do not keep me waiting long.” Once this exchange was made, the two men quickly developed what an AP article later described as an "Unusual bond."

The Japanese government offered to apologize the next month. Ambassador Fujisaki’s letter to Dr. Tenney stated:

We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damages and suffering to many people, including those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in the Philippines.

And on May 30, 2009, Ambassador Fujisaki personally delivered his country’s apology at the last convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor held in San Antonio. This apology was approved by the Japanese Cabinet and was the very first apology specifically offered to U.S. POWs by the Japanese government. Dr. Tenney’s first request was fulfilled.

For the invitation of former American POWs to Japan, Dr. Tenney had to wait another year to receive an official confirmation that it would indeed take place. Given the long process of submitting a budget for the next fiscal year and having it approved by the Diet, the Japanese government could not have stated the program any earlier. But it was still a long wait for aging former POWs.

The first delegation for the Japanese/POW Friendship Program led by Dr. Tenney arrived in Japan on September 22, 2010 for a week-long stay. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with the delegation and said in front of reporters of both Japanese and foreign media:

You have all been through hardships during World War II, being taken prisoner by the Japanese military, and suffered extremely inhumane treatment. On behalf of the Japanese government and as the foreign minister, I would like to offer you my heartfelt apology.

(Photo: Kyodo)

Dr. Tenney’s last remaining request, an apology from the companies that enslaved American POWs, was not fulfilled even after he suggested that Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) issue a collective apology. Most companies that had used POWs for forced labor belong to Keidanren. Yet Keidanren was silent while the POW delegation was in Japan and never seized the opportunity to make amends.

Still, there were some encouraging signs. Showa Denko in Kawasaki accepted a visit by two members of the delegation, Ed Jackfert and Joe Alexander, while Ishihara Sangyo in Yokkaichi also welcomed Earl Szwabo. Although no clear apology was offered by either company, their willingness to meet former POWs was a welcome occurrence and clear distinction from the silence of all other companies and Keidanren.

Building upon last year’s historic first trip, this year’s delegation was upbeat about their trip to Japan. The leader of the group, Robert Vogler (90), expressed his admiration many times, saying, "This trip is beyond my expectation. The Japanese people are so kind to us. I cannot believe that it ever took place."

But while there was the definitive moment in Takaoka, a request for a visit by two members of the delegation was declined by the successor company to Mitsui Mining, at whose coal mine they had been forced to work.

From the beginning, monetary compensation had never been the goal for these former POWs in pursuing these companies. Dr. Tenney was one of the plaintiffs that sought unpaid wages from them a decade ago. It had initially been their hope that forthright acknowledgment would come if these companies were held legally accountable for restitution of these former slave laborers. But the highest courts of both the U.S. and Japan have ruled that there was no legal responsibility for the Japanese companies to compensate their WWII POW forced laborers because of the peace treaty. Former POWs accepted that decision.

While these companies no longer had legal obligation for recompense, these former POWs have continued to seek acknowledgment from these companies on the basis of moral responsibility.

The German forced labor foundation, Remembrance, Responsibility and Future serves as a commendable example of what could be within reach. The foundation was not established based on the legal responsibility of Germany for their World War II forced labor, but on their willingness to take moral responsibility for it. The U.S. government was heavily involved in facilitating this historic resolution. The five-billion-dollar foundation, to which the German government and German companies contributed equally, paid individual compensation to more than a million and a half victims of German forced labor, while supporting many educational/exchange programs so that the history of German forced labor would not be forgotten.

All in all, some 6,500 German companies, many of which did not even exist during WWII, voluntarily contributed to this foundation. In comparison, very little is being asked of these Japanese companies that used POWs—a sincere apology for the inhuman forced labor and support for the effort to remember the POW history.

The possibilities for these Japanese companies are numerous. The most apparent method would be to help support the Japanese government’s Japanese/POW Friendship Program financially. The current allocation by the Japanese government is quite small, and financial donations would allow more former American POWs, as well as family members, to participate.

There are other ways for Japanese companies to make contribution. They include, but are not limited to:
1) Donating to the ADBC Museum in Wellsburg, West Virginia.
2) Setting up scholarships for students who study the POW history.
3) Supporting educational projects by POW descendants.
4) Sending young Japanese people to the annual Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico so that they can learn about the POW history while having an exchange with American participants.
5) Supporting production and distribution of documentaries on the POW history such as “Tragedy of Bataan”.
6) Building memorials at former POW campsites that they still own so that people can learn what took place at those places.
Other countries and their business communities have already been making similar efforts in order to deal with their own dark histories. For example, the French National Railway, SNCF, recently started its history project to deal with its involvement in transporting Jewish victims to the death camps during the war. On their website, the company states, “By acknowledging its complex history, SNCF is eager to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the historical questions raised are examined through dialogue, historical research and remembrance.”

Jim Collier later reflected on the trip to Takaoka, whose natural beauty he had never recognized while being a forced laborer. "After meeting the kind people at JMC and after observing the beautiful surroundings of the city, I realized that I had been robbed of the opportunity of truly knowing this place for the past 66 years. Takaoka had always remained as a dark and depressing place in my mind. Yet this visit has finally afforded me the opportunity to appreciate its beauty."

The visit of Bergbower and Collier to their former place of imprisonment and forced labor clearly demonstrates that endorsing open dialogue provides a means for further progress and understanding.

Thanks to the tenacity of Dr. Tenney and to the courage shown by Ambassador Fujisaki, who, unlike his predecessors, did not choose the easy way out of ignoring this issue, the effort to bring about honorable resolution to the history of American POWs of the Japanese has been on the right track for the past few years. Japanese companies that once enslaved American POWs find themselves in an extremely opportune season to do the right thing.

Last June, long-time POW-supporting Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced a resolution praising the Japanese government’s offer of an apology to former POWs and establishing a visitation programs for them. (H. Res. 333) It includes the following provision:

The House of Representatives requests that the Government of Japan respect the wishes and sensibilities of the United States former prisoners of war by requesting those successor Japanese firms of private entities that used United States prisoner of war labor to emulate their government's sincerity by offering an apology and supporting programs for lasting remembrance and reconciliation that recognizes their sacrifices and forced labor.

Former POWs Ed Jackfert and Lester Tenney visiting Congressman Honda with their wives

Next year, 2012, will mark the 70th anniversary of the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. What happened to those Americans who became POWs of the Japanese is too compelling to be forgotten. We are fortunate that some former POWs are still with us today to share their stories. These decisive and opportune moments, like the one in Takaoka, can be duplicated many times over if only more Japanese companies could clearly see how much they can contribute to this great effort of learning together.

* Kinue Tokudome is a Japanese author and the founder and Executive Director of the bilingual website, US-Japan Dialogue on POWs. She is the author of Courage to Remember.
This article first appeared on the History News Network.