Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Impressions of their return to Japan

On September 13, 2010 the Government of Japan offered an official apology for the abuse and misuse of the Americans they held as prisoners of war during World War II. With the apology the Japanese Government initiated a week-long visitation program for six American former POWs of Japan and two descendants. The second POW/Japan Friendship visit was held in October 2011 with seven former POWs. 

These are the first programs for American POWs. Each trip cost less than $200,000. Japan has maintained research and exchange programs with all other Allied former POWs since 1995 spending over $15 million through 2005 alone. From 2001 to 2005, the U.S. Justice Department noted $5.5 million of declared lobbying expenditures by the Japanese government to fight any and all efforts by the American POWs for recognition and justice.

Below are quotes from some of the participants that express the success of this program for American POWs of remembrance and reconciliation. They show the power of apology backed by deeds. The POWs hope that the Government of Japan will expand and enhance the visitation program to include descendants and researchers as well as create a permanent fund for remembrance and reconciliation.

Copies of this report are circulating on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. State Department.

Apology to POWs delivered by Foreign Minister Okada
From meeting the various government dignitaries; to having such helpful and caring guides to educate us about their country; to the amazing topography of the land; to the most beautiful accommodations and the graciousness of the Japanese people; for me this has been a trip I will never forget. I feel so privileged to have been able to accompany my father on what I know has been a trip he never imagined he would take again. - Judy Chorley, eldest daughter of former POW Master Sgt., Donald L. Versaw, USMC, who accompanied him to Japan, The Quan, December 2010.
We were met at the Beppu City Senior Citizens Club, by the city’s 'Mayor' and the club’s board members. We enjoyed some green tea and polite conversation, which included Dad sharing some of his experiences as a former POW. This was followed by a question/answer period that was all very polite and I was impressed with the level of concern, expressed by the members, for my father's ability to endure and later prosper, after his mistreatment. At the conclusion of the meeting, one of the members expressed his hope that all evolved would be able to "forget the bad feelings that may linger." - Benjamin Rosendahl, son of former POW Technical Sergeant Robert Rosendahl, US Army, The Quan, December 2010.
Memoiral at Ishihara Sangyo in Yakkaichi
Szwabo said that while he won't ever forget what he witnessed, it's time to forgive."While we were there, the Japanese treated us like kings," he said. "People were interested in hearing our side of the story, and I think it opened some eye." He said his trip to Japan has given him a new peace about the issue. "I figure I was lucky," he said. "A lot of POWs didn't make it back." Former POW Chief Warrant Officer Earl Szwabo, US Army, St Louis Dispatch, September 29, 2010.
A young Japanese woman followed me onto the bus after the press conference in Japan. She handed me her card-she was a press correspondent for a major United States news magazine. On the bus she proceeded to tell me that she had only recently learned about her grandfather's history. He had been a Japanese camp commandant and had been tried as a war criminal and convicted and imprisoned for five years. She then began to sob and apologize. - Jan Thompson, Descendants Group President, daughter of former POW Robert Thompson, was a Pharmacist Mate on the U.S.S. Canopus, The Quan, December 2010.

On Sept. 14, [Edward] Jackfert visited a Showa Denko factory in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture [where he had been a slave laborer]. According to sources who were involved in the visit, Jackfert met with Showa Denko's administrative manager and asked that higher-ups in the company be informed of the former POWs' wish for an apology, not financial compensation, to liberate those who still suffer from painful memories and promote reconciliation between the two countries. The company representative promised to deliver the message. Jackfert also toured the factory grounds. Jackfert, who says he has been waiting to hear the words "I'm sorry" for the past 65 years, remained positive about Showa Denko's reception, saying that he hoped his visit will prove to be a launching pad from which to enhance further goodwill between the two countries. Mainichi Shimbun, September 17, 2010.
Apology to POWs delivered by Foreign Minister Gemba
 Mr. Roy Friese met up with Mr. Kensuke Morooka, Representative of the Association for Recording Air Raids of Omuta. His family home was completely destroyed in the fire-bombing of June 18, 1945. “I remember I saw POWs when I was a boy of thirteen. The skeletal POWs were crammed upright into trucks,” he told Mr. Friese as they shook hands. “The facts of sixty-six years ago should never be forgotten. But instead of animosity, we have to hold onto our belief that stupid wars should never happen again,” said Mr. Morooka. “I had felt various prejudices but they are all gone now,” said Mr. Friese as he left the POW camp site. Nishi Nippon Shimbun, October 19, 2011, evening edition.
Meeting at Japan Metals & Chemicals
"This trip to Japan is beyond my expectations and my beliefs that this could ever take place," [Robert] Vogler said during a news conference Friday at the Japan National Press Club in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo…. "We went to the Kamioka mayor's office [in 1997], and they flew the American flag. Then we went to the mine, which was still operating back then, and they also flew the American flag. And then we went to a local school, where the kids sang us three songs they had learned in English," Vogler said. "They also had the American flag, and tears were running down — if you had a hard heart, it was now soft," he said. While his memories of the POW camp will always haunt him, Vogler feels that the delegation's visit and his 1997 trip to Kamioka were helpful in coming to terms with the years he spent as a POW. "Some good can come from forgiveness," he said. Japan Times, October 23, 2010.

In an exchange with officials at Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. (JMC)’s Takaoka Works and Harold Bergbower and Jim Collier: “I saw friendship that happened between generations, between the generation from the Japan Metals Company and these two former POWs, 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. And that peace of mind helped and is helping my father at the age of 91.” Ms. Debra Bergbower-Grunwald, the daughter of former POW Chief Master Sergeant Harold Bergbower US Army Air Corps, Comment on the US-Japan POW Dialogue Website.

“I was torn,” said [Jim] Collier, a retired teacher and guidance counselor from Salinas, Calif., who spoke to Stars and Stripes via telephone after touring the Takaoka factory Tuesday. “The company officials were so gracious and well-prepared.” But all the pleasantries essentially distracted him, he said, and the site had totally changed after decades of development. “I didn’t slay any demons today,” Collier said. “It was a very nice distraction. ... But those feelings are always right there lurking under the surface, like a volcano.” Stars & Stripes, October 20, 2010.

Mr. Collier later reflected on the trip to Takaoka, whose natural beauty he had never recognized while being a POW: “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.” Comment on the US-Japan POW Dialogue Website.

Exchange with Japanese researchers of the POW issue

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wake Island Lecture

Temple University
March 6, 2012
 7:30 PM

Lincroft Main Campus 

  Warner Student Life Center
765 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, New Jersey

 $12 General Admission, $5 Students
Brookdale Students Free

Pre-registration for the program is appreciated and may be made by calling (732) 224-2315. The course code is XWWTS 256 PR. More information regarding the content of the program is available from WWII  Center director Professor Paul Zigo at (732) 224-2029 or e-mail.

Dr. Urwin’s lecture will be based on his current book Victory in Defeat: The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity, which relates in vivid detail the story of the defenders of Wake Island following their surrender to the Japanese on December 23, 1941.

A highly regarded military historian, Professor Urwin spent decades researching what happened after the surrender of Wake Island and will offer a revealing look at the U.S. Marines, sailors, soldiers, and civilian contractors in captivity. In addition to exhaustive archival research, he interviewed dozens of POWs and even some of their Japanese captors.

Dr. Urwin also had access to diaries secretly kept by the prisoners. This information has allowed him to provide a nuanced look at the Japanese guards and how the Americans survived three-and-a-half years in captivity

Dr. Urwin is the author of eight books including Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island which won the Gen. Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.   He currently is Vice President of the Military History Society (MHS).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

February 19, 1942

President Obama and Australian PM Gillard
at memorial in Darwin for the USS Peary
On February 19, 1942, the United States was reeling from the realization that it has entered its second world war in the same century. Japan's attacks on the American possessions of Pearl Harbor, the Philippines Islands, Midway, Wake Island, and Guam were followed by fall of the British, French, and Dutch colonies in Asia. Bad news increased by the day.

That day, Japan began its assault on Australia. It was the first of 63 air attacks that Darwin and Western Australia endured between 1942 and 1943. The bombs that fell on February 19, 1942, officially killed 243 Australians, although many believe the figure is higher. The USS Peary, in Darwin's harbor that day, was sunk and 88 of its crew killed.

Remarkably, this year's anniversary will also be the first time it is recognized as a national day of observance, joining Anzac Day and Remembrance Day as a date when Australians can pause to remember those who lost their lives, many without acknowledgment.

In the United States, fear overtook the nation. Spies were believed to be hiding everywhere.  Japanese, German, and Italian immigrant communities were targeted for revenge. They were viewed with prejudice and suspicion.

So on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that allowed authorized military commanders to designate "military areas" at their discretion, "from which any or all persons may be excluded." The aim was to remove from both the West and East Coast potential threats to "national security." The order allowed the U.S. Government to forcibly remove approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast to camps in remote parts of the country as well as 11,000 German-Americans and  418 Italian-Americans from the East Coast.

In the end, Japan never invaded Australia. The war in Asia lingered as it was secondary to the one in Europe. Spies were arrested and espionage did taper off, but at a great cost of American civil liberties, rule of law, and due process.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which had been sponsored in the House by Representative Norman Mineta and in the Senate by Senator Alan K. Simpson to provide redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee, totaling $1.2 billion dollars. On September 27, 1992, the Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, appropriating an additional $400 million to ensure all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government. In 2009, President George W. Bush signed into law $38 million to preserve and restore 10 of the camps where Japanese-Americans were interned.

No apologies have been offered to the German and Italian Americans.

Today, the Japanese American National Museum launched a Remembrance Project, a website where people can pay tribute to those affected by internment and read stories others have posted.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Corporate Responsibility

One of Mitsubishi's POW camps

On January 26th, the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's leading newspapers, published an essay by Ms. Kinue Tokudome, Executive Director of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs. In it, she appeals to Japan's corporations that want to be viewed as responsible, international good corporate citizens to admit their use and abuse of POW slave labor. Ms. Tokudome has written extensively on POW slave labor in Japan and the need for corporate accountability similar to that in Germany. Below is an English translation.

My View Point
Courage to Face the History: Apology for former POWs

“Please tell us how our wartime colleagues treated you. We want to learn, too.” For the two former American POWs who visited Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. (JMC)’s Takaoka Works (Toyama prefecture) last October, Director Takashi Toriyama’s words sounded as if they were wiping away their pain that they had not been able to forget for 66 years.

Mr. Harold Bergbower (91) and Mr. James Collier (88) were among the seven former American POWs invited to Japan by the Foreign Ministry. It was during the Pacific War in September of 1944, that the two men first set foot on Takaoka. One hundred and fifty American POWs were brought here from the Philippines to become forced laborers for JMC’s predecessor company, Hokkai Denka Kogyo.

Already weakened POWs were forced to perform dangerous work near open furnaces. Food and medicine were not adequate and 13 POWs died by the end of the war.

I accompanied the two former POWs who traveled a long distance to visit Takaoka. Mr. Toriyama welcomed them and started the conversation by saying, “My late father was also a Siberian internee and I felt as if you were my own father when I received the request on your visit from the Foreign Ministry.”

Ms. Debra Bergbower-Grunwald, the daughter of Mr. Bergbower, described what followed this initial exchange at a press conference in Tokyo a few days later:

I saw friendship that happened between generations, between the generation from the Japan Metals Company and these two former POWs, 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. And that 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.

During WWII, nearly 36,000 Allied POWs were held at approximately 130 POW camps throughout Japan and forced to work for more than 60 Japanese companies. About 10% of them died in Japan. However, companies like Japan Metals & Chemicals, which are willing to welcome former POWs, are the exception. Most companies that enslaved POWs have not even acknowledged their use of POWs as forced laborers.

A resolution has been introduced in US Congress requesting that the Government of Japan respect the wishes and sensibilities of the United States former prisoners of war by encouraging those Japanese companies to do the right thing. [H Res 333]

President of POWs' Descendants Group also submitted a written testimony for the hearing on California High Speed Rail held last month by the House of Representatives, asking those Japanese companies that are planning to bid for the project to respect their father’s dignity by acknowledging the history of POW forced labor and apologizing for it.

Former American POWs are not asking for compensation. The only thing they wish is to restore their dignity while they are alive and to have their history remembered by future generations. I hope that those Japanese companies that enslaved them will have the courage to face the history. There is not much time left.

Japanese Corporate Use of U.S. POWs as Slave Labor

American POWs at Yawata Steel Mill
 part of  Nippon Steel in Fukuoka
On 15 December 2011, Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO) submitted a Statement for the Record to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Hearing on California's High-Speed Rail Plan on behalf of Mr. Joseph A. Vater, Jr. who is President of the Descendants Group, an Auxiliary of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

Congressman Carnahan visited Corregidor last year and learned first hand of the historic battle of the Philippines and how its American defenders ended up as POWs facing over three years of unimaginable hell. Earl Szwabo, a survivor of the battle of Corregidor and member of the first POW trip to Japan, is one of Mr. Carnahan's constituents.

Below is Mr. Vater's testimony where he outlines how most of the Japanese companies that plan to bid on California's and other American high-speed rail projects were major users of American POW slave labor. He suggests that it is time for these companies to offer their apologies and make amends for this gross violation of human rights and the Geneva Convention.

Japanese Corporate Use of U.S. POWs as Slave Labor

Mr. Chairman, I am President of the Descendants Group, an Auxiliary of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, Inc. (ADBC). The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor was founded in 1946 and represented the surviving prisoners of war of Japan and their families. I would like to call your and the Committee’s attention to the fact that many of the Japanese companies that intend to bid on California’s High-Speed Rail contracts profited from the use of American and Allied (POW) slave labor in the most brutal of conditions during World War II.

These companies, unlike those in Germany, Austria, and France, have never acknowledged nor apologized for this gross violation of human rights and breach of the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs. It is a concern to me and other members of the Descendants Group that taxpayer dollars may go to Japanese corporations that still do not respect the American veterans they once enslaved.

My father, Joseph A. Vater, was one of these men.

After fighting in and surviving the Battle for the Philippines he was taken prisoner by Japan in May 1942 on Corregidor. He was held months in a fetid POW camp where thousands died. He was then shipped to Mukden, China (today's Shenyang) in October 1942 on Mitsubishi's Tottori Maru via Formosa and Korea. My father became a slave laborer at MKK factory (Manshu Kosaku Kikai, possibly Manchuria Mitsubishi Machine Tool Company, Ltd.), working as a machinist. He still carries many scars and continues to have frightening nightmares that remind him on a daily basis of his forced labor.

There was a broad government program in which over 60 private Japanese corporations requested, paid for, and effectively enslaved POWs in order to maintain wartime industrial production. Tens of thousands of Allied POWs endured abuses at the hands of the employees of these companies that were comparable to, and sometimes worse than, that inflicted upon them by the Japanese military. As a result, more than a 1,000 American POWs (over 3,500 Allied POWs) died on the main islands of Japan alone. Those who survived found themselves with permanent physical or mental damage.

The POW slave laborers of Japan were subjected to starvation rations, minimal medical treatment, constant physical abuse, summary punishment, murder, and other degradations. The death rate of Americans captured by the Japanese and who died as prisoners of war was nearly 40 percent, as compared to a little over one percent held in German stalags.

Nearly all of the Japanese companies that want to bring High-Speed Rail to California used POW slave labor. Many of these corporations boast over 100 years of continuous operation spanning three centuries. Many utilized labor from multiple POW camps for their mines, factories, foundries, and docks. Some of the camps were in Japan’s occupied territories. Current research finds the number of camps associated with some of the Japanese companies bidding on California contracts as follows: Mitsui-9; Mitsubishi-5, Hitachi-7, Kawasaki-2, Sumitomo-5, and Nippon Sharyo-2.

None of these companies has acknowledged their involvement in POW forced labor and maltreatment, much less apologized for it. That is in stark contrast to German and French bidders for the High-Speed Rail projects, both of which have not only apologized for their war crimes during WWII, but also committed themselves to supporting projects of remembrance and reconciliation.

Last year, for the first time, the Government of Japan offered its apology and established a visitation program (modeled on a longstanding Japanese program for POWs of other allied nations) for American former prisoners of war of Imperial Japan.

It is time for Japan’s private companies to follow their government’s lead and offer their own apologies. Further, commitment to this apology can be demonstrated through the establishment of a foundation for the remembrance of the POW experience in the Pacific.

To date, the two consortia headed by Japan’s leading passenger rail firms, JR East and JR Central, which are planning to bid on American High-Speed Rail projects, have been silent. As rail operators both companies’ forbearers were complicit in POW abuses; both have roots deep in Japan’s wartime government Railway Ministry.

JR East’s antecedent transported prisoners to 46 POW camps including the infamous Ofuna Interrogation Center where American Naval officers were routinely tortured to death. JR Central’s predecessor transported prisoners to 12 POW camps, including the ones supplying workers to Nippon Sharyo. Now owned by JR Central, Nippon Sharyo made the engines used on the Thai-Burma Death Railway (one of which sits at the entrance of the museum at the Yasukuni Shrine).

That the transportation of POWs to “death-by-work” camps and widespread forced labor constitute war crimes is self-evident. Yet, the Japanese companies involved have refused to publicly acknowledge this history. Their counterparts in the European Axis countries, by contrast, have apologized and atoned for similar wrongdoing.

In 2000, the German government and industrial sector established and funded in equal measure the “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future” Foundation. Among the fund’s continuing objectives are “anchoring the history of forced labour” in European memory, “fostering commitment to democracy and human rights through history learning,” and “engendering respect for the life histories of those persecuted.”

Over the past three years, the former commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor has written three times to Japan’s premier business organization, Keidanren, to which most companies that enslaved American POWs belong, asking that it apologize on behalf of its members to the American POWs. Keidanren’s corporate responsibility charter states a commitment to “respect human rights” and to “conduct business in a socially responsible manner.” Keidanren has never replied. Further, it refused to meet in with any of the visiting POWs who were guests of the Japanese government in the fall of 2010 and 2011.

For both business and moral reasons, JR East, JR Central and the other Japanese companies that profited from the forced labor of POWs and others now have a chance—and incentives—to right past wrongs. The American POWs do not seek compensation. Justice for my father and his fellow prisoners is a public apology and a meaningful program of visitation, dialogue, memory, and research on the American POW experience in Imperial Japan.

I and other members of the Descendants Group sincerely hope that the State of California will advise these Japanese companies to promptly acknowledge their involvement in wartime forced labor and offer an apology to the American POWs.

These veterans of America’s greatest generation should not be forgotten and Japan’s corporations should no longer be allowed to forget.

Mostly, we ask them to respect these veterans’ dignity and to acknowledge their sacrifices for peace in Asia.

After doing so, these Japanese companies can join in the bidding on California’s High-Speed Rail contracts as honorable, socially responsible companies.

*Yes, there were Black Americans who were POWs of Japan. The POWs above were from the USS Grenadier the only submarine crew that did not go down with their boat. Thomas James Trigg was a Mess Attendant First Class. We will do a post shortly on the Black American POWs of Japan.