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.

Veterans Day Resolution

Liberation Omori Tokyo Base Camp #1
Feinstein Resolution Honors WWII POWs
‘We owe these brave heroes a debt that can never be fully repaid’

Washington, DC, November 10, 2011—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced a resolution honoring former World War II U.S. prisoners of war from the Pacific theater and acknowledging efforts by the Japanese government to heal the wounds of the past. [We will post the bill number as soon as it becomes available. Please check back. Ed.]

Approximately 27,000 U.S. POWs were held by Imperial Japanese forces during World War II, many subject to brutal and inhumane treatment. Some 40 percent of these POWs perished and never returned home.

Senator Feinstein said, “The American POWs—those who survived – returned home and tried to move on with their lives. They completed their education, got married, started families, began careers and participated in all aspects of civic life. But one thing was missing: recognition from the Japanese government about how they were treated as POWs. In the simplest terms, they wanted an apology.

“I am pleased to say that Japan has taken historic actions in this area and has acknowledged its treatment of POWs during the war. There are fewer than 500 surviving POWs still alive today. Let us take a moment, while we still can, to honor them and pay tribute to their service to their country during difficult and trying times.

“We owe these brave heroes a debt that can never be fully repaid. It is critical that we never forget their sacrifice.”

The Feinstein resolution:

Welcomes and commends the government of Japan for extending an official apology to all U.S. former prisoners of war by establishing a 2010 visitation program to Japan for surviving veterans, their families and descendants;

Appreciates the recent efforts by the government of Japan to apologize for the war crimes of Imperial Japan;

Requests that Japan continue its new Japanese-American POW Friendship Program of reconciliation and remembrance;

Requests that Japan respect the wishes and sensibilities of U.S. POWs by supporting and encouraging programs for lasting remembrance and reconciliation that recognize their sacrifices, history and forced labor; and

Applauds the persistence, dedication and patriotism of the members and descendants of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

“As our nation pays tribute to our veterans, we must never forget the sacrifice of the men and women who suffered grave injustices during World War II,” said Representative Mike Honda (CA-15), sponsor of the companion resolution H.Res. 333. “With fewer than 500 surviving American POWs who served during World War II alive today, it is time for our colleagues in both chambers of Congress to join Senator Feinstein and me in making this small, but significant, gesture to show these brave men and women that Congress has not forgotten about their experience and sacrifice. It is past due for those private Japanese companies that profited from American POW slave labor to follow in their government’s example by apologizing and supporting programs for lasting peace and remembrance.”

A copy of the Feinstein resolution is available here.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Heroes All

SSgt Frank Fujita
POW of Japan
On November 2, Japanese-American war veterans received one of the highest U.S. awards. These veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as well as the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. It will be stored at the Smithsonian. Veterans can buy a bronze replica if they want.

The awards ceremony was held in the great hall of the Capitol Visitor's Center and hosted by the House and Senate leadership. A full military color guard participated.

Later that week on November 4th many of these veterans met for the first time with Navajo and African-American recipients of the same honor for a celebratory dinner in Beverly Hills, California involving the three historically segregated military units.

 The other groups received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2000 and 2006, respectively. The dinner was organized by the Go For Broke National Education Center, a group working to preserve the history of the ''Nikkei'' World War II veterans.

Meeting men from the other segregated units had a deep emotional impact, a Japanese-American veteran said. ''I just hope the world will be a safer place to live now, for all of us,'' he said.

Interestingly, at least five Japanese-American WWII veterans did not serve in these units. They are believed to have been in the Army Air Corps like Ben Kuroki, who flew 28 missions over Japan. Cmdr Douglas Wada was the only one in the Navy. One, however, was from the Texas National Guard and became a POW of Japan. He did not receive an honor on November 2nd.

Staff Sergeant Frank Fujita was a member of the 2D Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, Texas National Guard during World War II. Known as the Lost Battalion, they were captured in March 1942 on Java. Its members were sent to build the infamous Thai-Burma Death Railway. SSgt Fujita was then sent to be a slave laborer for Kawanami Shipyards at Fukuoka #2B near Nagasaki. He was also sent for interrogation to the infamous Ofuna Naval Interrogation Center and then forced to be used for radio propaganda at Omori where he was liberated.

During his three-and-a-half year incarceration, Fujita kept a diary, from which he wrote his autobiography: Foo: A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun : The Secret Prison Diary of Frank 'Foo' Fujita. He endured years of beatings and disgrace. Yet, his loyalty to the U.S. and his unit never wavered, even when the Japanese offered him a commission, money, and women. He turned it all down, accepting unending abuse and refused to assist in Japan's propaganda effort. His strength of character was an inspiration to his comrades.

SSgt Fujita became an Air Force illustrator after the war and died in 1996 in Abilene, Texas.

Segarent Richard Sakakida was also a POW of the Japanese. He was a member of MIS, which was included in the collective Congressional Gold Medal. Sakakida was captured on Corregidor and endured months of torture by the Kempeitai at several POWs camps in the Philippines. See, A Spy in Their Midst: The World War II Struggle of a Japanese-American Hero, Richard Sakakida, as told to Wayne S. Kiyosaki. Madison Books, 1995. Lt. Col. Sakakida died in 1996.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Qs & As at Temple University

On October 17th, Temple University's Japan Campus Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies hosted the seven visiting American former POWs of Japan. The video below is of the Qs & As. They speak from their heart about their mixed feelings about returning to Japan. One daughter talks about how she protects her father from reading books about the POW experience. They also recommend the forthcoming documentary The Tragedy of Bataan about the infamous Bataan Death March. Listeners are astounded at the incredibly horrendous conditions in the POW camps.