Friday, September 16, 2011

Where is Congress?

Congress Is Missing in Action for the POWs/MIAs

by Ralph Levenberg, USAF (Retired)
The Huffington Post, September 16, 2011

On this National POW/MIA Recognition Day, I am at a loss as to why H. Res. 333 honoring POWs from World War II languishes in the House of Representatives. The Resolution, introduced by Representative Mike Honda (D-CA), thanks the Government of Japan for offering last year an apology to the American POWs of Japan and encourages the Japanese companies that used them as slave labor to follow the example of their government. Most important, it acknowledges the sacrifices of these veterans of whom nearly 40 percent died in merciless captivity.

My story is not much different than many Americans captured by Japan. I was a member of the Army Air Corps stationed on the Philippines when the Japanese invaded in December 1941. I was surrendered by my commanding officers on April 9, 1942 and survived the infamous 65-mile Bataan Death March in the tropical sun with little water and no food. I saw my friends beheaded, bayoneted and beaten to death.

The violence did not end at the POW camps on the Philippines where I helped bury hundreds of fellow POWs who died of disease, abuse, and malnutrition. In 1944, I was shipped to Japan in a Hell Ship, the Nissyo Maru, owned and operated by Mitsui. Nearly 1,600 POWs were herded into the freighter's dark hold and given little food or water. After 17 hellish days with no sanitation or fresh air, we arrived in Moji, Japan.

We were then transported by train to the village of Narumi on the main island of Honshu. The military had sold 200 Americans as property to Nippon Sharyo to labor at its locomotive factory to maintain war production. Both the guards and company employees routinely and capriciously beat us. We subsisted on little food, clothing and medical care. We were never given Red Cross boxes or mail.

Nippon Sharyo profited from our labor. The company, now owned by the Shinkansen operator JR Central, remains one of Japan's principal rail car makers and has robust sales in the United States. It is also a central player in Japan's bid for American high-speed rail contracts.

At Nippon Sharyo, I remember watching a starving Staff Sergeant, Sam Moody, brought to the camp yard after stealing a cup of rice. He was beaten and left to stand at attention in the summer sun with six other POWs. The slightest movement or twitch led to a harsh blow from the passing guards. He stood there for a remarkable 53 hours until he was tossed back into the barracks. Rep. John Mica (R-FL)*, chair of the House Transportation Committee reprinted Moody's POW memoir to distribute to all visiting veterans.

The abuse, violence, and murders in Nippon Sharyo's Narumi POW camp and factory led to one of the highest number of convicted Japanese war criminals: 22.

But this doesn't make up for the fact that both the Japanese government and its wealthiest companies colluded to enslave tens of thousands of American and Allied POWs, in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. Companies like Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Kawasaki and Hitachi requested and purchased us from Japan's War Ministry. Often these corporations were more abusive than Imperial Japan's military.

Last September the Japanese government officially apologized to the American POWs and, in March, to the Australian POWs. The government established a provisional visitation program to Japan for U.S. veterans and our descendants -- 15 years after Tokyo had established a similar program for Allied POWs. Although my health prevented me from participating, it was profoundly meaningful for me to know that my fellow POWs who participated in the inaugural visit were treated with kindness and respect. 

The experience of being a POW and slave laborer for Japan stripped me of my dignity and my youth. It astounds me that Nippon Sharyo and other Japanese corporations neither acknowledge nor apologize for willfully enslaving American forces. But it bothers me more, that members of Congress, many who exhibit POW/MIA flags outside their Capitol Hill offices, hesitate at becoming co-sponsors of H.Res.333.

It is time for Japan's companies to follow their government's lead, and apologize to the POWs and establish a program of remembrance. Our blood and despair helped sustain these companies. I do not want compensation. I simply ask for a genuine apology and that my presence be remembered. But first, Congress must stand by our side.

* Congressman John Mica has not become a co-sponsor of H.Res. 333. You can find the introduction he wrote for Sam Moody's memoir HERE.            

Miramar National Veterans Cemetery

Courtesy Clay Perkins
Today, a 15-foot-bronze, concrete, and stainless steel monument to American POWs was dedicated at the new Miramar National Veterans Cemetery in San Diego.

The ten-foot-tall figure of a male prisoner of war emerging from captivity (titled “The Liberation Moment”) was created by Richard Becker, a San Diego sculptor.

A plaque installed on the statue’s base reads, “This statue conveys the excitement, trepidation, exhilaration and emotion of the LIBERATION moment, as the emaciated soldier steps out of the darkness into the “Sunshine of Freedom.” He portrays the hundreds of thousands who were bound in captivity by the infamy of foreign enemies. This is to stand as an eternal legacy for our community by reminding visitors of the sacrifice of veterans during America’s efforts to keep alive the hopes and dreams of freedom for oppressed around the world.”

National POW/MIA Recognition Day

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Talk on POWs of Japan

Guerilla Daughter 
Virginia (Ginger) Hansen Holmes, author


Father Found
Judith Heisinger, wife of author, the late Duane Heisinger

September 16, 2011
Noon-1:00 PM
United States Navy Memorial 
Naval Heritage Center
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC
Free and open to the public 

Guerrilla Daughter recounts the experiences of an American family struggling to survive the Japanese occupation of Mindanao during World War II. Father Found tells the story of a father in the California National Guard taken prisoner by the Japanese in WWII seen through the eyes of his son. 

The Navy Memorial will then hold its official POW/MIA Recognition Day wreathlaying ceremony with the U.S. Navy Band and Ceremonial Guard at 1:00pm on the plaza. 

About the Authors

Using original documents, vivid recollections and the memories of her siblings, Ginger Hansen Holmes presents a compelling account of extraordinary survival. When the war ended, Ginger graduated from the Colegio de Jesus-Maria in the Philippines and came to the United States in 1954. After marrying Kent Holmes in 1958, several of his foreign assignments with the U.S. government took them back to the Philippines. They now live in Virginia.

Duane Heisinger explores the war years from the viewpoints of both POWs and their families at home, weaving together his story using first hand reports, diaries, journals, letters to his family from his father’s surviving friends and interviews with men who endured similar conditions. Duane entered the U.S. Naval Academy graduating an Ensign in 1956 and retiring a Navy Captain after 30 years. Before passing away of lung cancer in May 2006, he was able to lead a tour to the Philippines and dedicate the Hellships Memorial in Subic Bay in January 2006 as a last tribute to this father.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Best Seller Still

Other photos of the Omori rescue and Ofuna rescue HERE 
As reported in USA TODAY, last week Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken passed the one-million-copy milestone in hardcover sales. Currently there are no plans to issue the book in paperback.

Hillenbrand's story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II bombardier who crashed in the Pacific, was marooned on a raft for 47 days and survived brutal internment in Japanese POW camps, was first published in November 2010.

 Zamperini endured sadistic torture and abuse at the infamous Ofuna Naval Interrogation station (he was water-boarded) in Kamakura and was then sold to Japanese companies to be a slave laborer in Japan's two most horrific prison camps: Omori where he slaved for Nippon Express and then Naoetsu where he labored for Shinetsu Chemical and Nippon Stainless. These companies still exist and have retained their original names.

The book has spent 41 weeks on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list. It was the best-selling hardcover nonfiction title of the first half of 2011, according to Bookscan. E-book sales to date: approximately 650,000 copies.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Oh Australia

On September 1, the Australian government again honored its former POWs of Japan. Due to the efforts of former Japanese POW and parliamentarian Tom Uren, 90, all surviving POWs of WWII and the Korean War will receive a fortnightly grant of AU$500 ($US$530) for the next four years. In 2001, Australia’s POWs of Japan had also been awarded a one-off ex-gratia payment of AU$25,000.

American POWs of Japan in 1948 simply received a $1 per day compensation for the days they were prisoners. A few who received letters of notification (many did not as they had moved) received an extra $1.50 per day in 1952. American POWs unlike their Canadian, Australian, British, New Zealand, Isle of Man, Dutch, and Norwegian fellow POWs of Japan, never received extra services, compensation, or recognition for their brutal experience.

Australia’s new bonus payment was approved in May as part of Prime Minister Julia Gillard 2011-12 Federal Budget. It will cost AU$27.1 million. The payment will be tax-free, indexed annually to inflation and exempt from the income test, meaning it will not affect pensions or any other benefits the veterans receive.

The Prime Minister justified this extra expenditure by saying that it
acknowledges the severe hardship suffered by our former POWs. POWs were particularly subjected to horrific conditions and many returned home with physical and psychological scars that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Uren convinced Prime Minister Julia Gillard in January that Australian POWs of Japan suffered more than most soldiers and died at a much greater rate than other veterans. Those few still surviving—623—had watched the erosion of their conditions and benefits as they aged and the country became complacent. Uren had been captured by the Japanese in Timor in 1942 and mined coal as a POW slave laborer at Mitsui’s infamous Fukuoka #17 Omuta POW camp mine with Lester Tenney (Tenneberg)

Those Australian POWs who came back from the war in the Pacific, died at four times the rate of other veterans between 1945 and 1954, due mainly to the brutality they suffered under the Japanese. Uren said that securing the payments for the surviving few was not so much about the money. ''It's about giving credit to the service of our people,'' he said. ''It's justice and compassion, that's what this recognises. It recognises the suffering of our people.''

Former POW Norm Anderton who slaved on the Thai-Burma Death Railway said the $500 bonus payment to him and his comrades is "bloody great news" - and he reckons there wouldn't be too many Australians who would begrudge the Government's gesture.

In early March, Anderton was one of five former POW “Diggers” (Australian soldiers) who visited as Japan guests of the Japanese governent. They met with the then-Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on March 3rd, privately offering them an apology for the horrors they endured under Japanese control. The Australians accepted it as the first ever official apology. Maehara, unlike his predecessor Okada who received American POWs in September 2010, refused to have TV cameras or reporters present during this important moment.  As you can see in this video, cameras were present as he greeted the POWs at the Foreign Ministry.

During the trip, the Japanese government also agreed to release over 21,000 index cards of POW records. The hope is to identify the hundreds of Australian POWs never accounted for, especially those on the Montevideo Maru. No such offer was made to the American POWs of Japan.

In November 2010, then-Foreign Minister Maehara visited Australia and made an unusual side trip that was not reported in the Japanese press. He visited the Australia War Museum and Memorial to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Solider and to stand silently and bow before the statue of Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop. Dr Dunlop (1907-93) was the best known of the doctors who ministered to Australian prisoners held by Japan. A doctor on the infamous Thai-Burma Death Railroad where nearly 3,000 Australians died, he is immortalized in a large bronze statue in the War Memorial grounds. Although it is now de rigueur to visit the War Memorial, Maehara is likely the first Japanese Foreign Minister to honor Weary Dunlop.

Despite these important gestures of reconciliation and healing, it must be noted that neither the Australian POW delegation nor the American POW delegation— and by implication their governments—were able to get Japan’s official apology for its maltreatment of POWs in writing and available to the press. No copy of the wording of that apology has subsequently been made public.

And in terms of gestures, House passage of H.Res. 333, which simply honors the American POWs of Japan for their efforts toward justice, is the least Congress can do for its POWs of Japan in light of Australia's recent tribute to its surviving POWs.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Justice Denied

September 2nd is 66th anniversary of the signing of Japan's surrender document aboard the USS Missouri. Dr. Lester Tenney remembered the day in the Asian Wall Street Journal as the official end of his slavery for Mitusi & Co.

He wrote of the abuse he received as a POW from Mitsui's employees and about his enduring wish to receive a proper apology from the Mitsui company. Mitsui is one of Japan's largest and oldest conglomerates. It has an extensive presence in the U.S. and is hoping to benefit from contracts to build high-speed rail in California and Texas.
My slavery in Japan officially ended on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japanese and American representatives signed the formal surrender documents for the Pacific War. For nearly three years I was an American prisoner of war slave laborer for Mitsui Mining. I had survived the Bataan Death March on the Philippines and a "hell ship" to Japan only to be sold by Japan's military to the Mitsui conglomerate. Since liberation I have struggled to regain the dignity that both Imperial Japan and Mitsui stripped from me.
I strongly disagree with those that believe reminding Japan of its war crimes is counterproductive. The idea that the process of politely requesting an apology for atrocities creates too much political inconvenience is insulting to all involved. The trust needed to move our alliance forward can only be built upon a frank assessment of the past. Real friendship is forged through the acknowledgment of painful truths.
The Japanese government had been responsible for the supply and control of the POWs, but Japan's companies maintained the POW facilities and assigned our work. Now my fellow POWs and I wait for corporate Japan's apologies. Over 60 Japanese companies, nearly all still in existence—such as Mitsui, Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and Hitachi—used POW slave labor to maintain war production. My letters to Mitsui and to Japan's chief business organization, Keidanren, have gone unanswered. 
At the heart of all this effort is a simple truth: the need to remember, recognize and honor those who endured so much. I hope that both Japanese and Americans will support H.Res. 333 which thanks the Japanese government for its historic apology. This resolution encourages Japanese companies to follow this good example by apologizing and honoring the memory of the POWs who labored and suffered as slaves for profit. 
This unresolved past casts a despicable shadow over the reputations of these companies today. It will continue to do so unless reason, fairness and human dignity prevail.
Dr. Tenney was a member of Maywood, Illinois' 192nd Tank Battalion, Company B that defended the Philippines in World War II. He lives in San Diego, California.

His congressman, Brian Bilbray (R-CA), is a co-sponsor of H. Res. 333 as are two of the San Diego region's five members of congress.  The other co-sponsors are Susan Davis (D-CA) and Bob Filner (D-CA).  Thus far, Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA) are not.