|Watercolor by British POW Des Bettany
reproduced with kind permission of his family
In this intimate and moving portrait of Americans who fought the first battles of World War II and became prisoners of Imperial Japan reveal their indomitable will to survive. Starved, beaten, sick, brutalized, and enslaved but always keeping a wry sense of humor, these amazing soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines used gallows humor to beat the odds. Some of the men were artists, some wrote poetry and songs and many collected recipes.
Jan Thompson is a three-time Emmy award winning documentary writer director, editor, and composer. Thompson was the creator of Hidden Journeys a series of primetime specials for PBS on food and cultures around the world. She also was the producer director of the interfaith program Ties That Bind, which was distributed by NETA for 9/11 anniversary programming. Jan is a professor in the Radio Television Digital Media Department at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She is also president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society.
Attending the LA viewing with filmmaker Jan Thompson are possibly eight former POWs of Japan, several of whom participated in the Japanese government’s POW visitation program to Japan (noted with *). The fourth such program will take place this October.
*Harold Bergbower, 93 - Joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1939 and was part of V Bomber Command, 19th Bomb Group, 28th Bombardment Squadron, Far East Air Force. He was at Clarke Field when Japan attacked on December 8, 1941. He was knocked out in the bombardment and when he awoke he found himself in the morgue at Fort Stotsenburg. Bergbower crawled out and went back to his squadron to fight in the Battle of Bataan. By escaping to Mindanao after surrender, he avoided the Bataan Death March and was captured in May. On the Philippines, he was imprisoned at Malaybalay on Mindanao and the Davao Penal Colony. In August 1944, he survived the sinking of several Hellships only to end up on Mitsubishi's Noto Marti; a trip he has completely blocked out. He was a slave laborer scooping iron ore into an open hearth furnace at the Nagoya-6B-Nomachi (Takaoka) camp for the Hokkai Denka Company which was involved in ferro-alloy smelting. Today, the site remains in ferro-alloy business as Takaoka Works. It is, as was Hokkai Denka, still part of Japan Metals & Chemicals Co., Ltd (JMC, Nihon Jukagaku Kogyo). Bergbower stayed in the U.S. Air Force and returned to Japan (1954-1957) to train Japan's Air Self-Defense Force. After retiring in 1969, he became a golf pro for Dell Webb's Sun City, Arizona. He is a past Commander of the American Defenders (2005-6). See his bio here.
*Harry Corre, 90 - Joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and was sent to the Philippines as part of the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, Battery C "Wheeler.'' He was captured by the Japanese with the surrender of Bataan on April 9, 1942 and began the infamous Bataan Death March. He escaped by swimming, with the assistance of a hastily improvised floatation device, the three-and-a-half miles to Corregidor, where he rejoined his unit. Corre was surrendered on Corregidor and imprisoned at Cabanatuan #1 and #3. He was shipped to Japan in July 1943 on Mitsubishi's Clyde Maru to mine coal at Omuta Fukuoka #17 Branch POW Camp for Mitsui Mining (now Mitsui's Nippon Coke & Engineering Company Co., Ltd., NB: Mitsui-aflliated companies now have a minority stake in this company, of which Nippon Steel and Sumitomo hold the majority of shares. (See FY2010 Annual Report, page 27, in Japanese only.) After the war he worked odd jobs for several years and then moved to California to work in the aerospace industry. He returned to school in 1971 and graduated from Western Electronic Institute in Los Angeles as an electronics engineer. He worked in the aerospace industry for 40 years with his last position at TRW. Corre presently works at the Los Angeles, California Veterans Administration Hospital as a Patient Advocate and as a Veterans Service Officer for the American Ex-Prisoners of War as well as a POW Coordinator for the Veterans Administration Hospital & West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Regional Office.
*Jim Collier, 90 - Enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 at the age of 16. As a member of U.S. Army 59th Coast Artillery, Battery D “Cheney,” he was captured on Corregidor. Before being shipped from the Philippines to Japan on Mitsubishi's Noto Maru in August 1944, he was held in Cabanatuan and Clark Field. Collier was a slave laborer feeding iron ore into the open hearth furnace at the Nagoya-6B-Nomachi (Takaoka) camp for the Hokkai Denka Company, which was involved in ferro-alloy smelting. Today, the site remains in ferroalloy business as Takaoka Works. It is, as was Hokkai Denka, still part of Japan Metals & Chemicals Co., Ltd (JMC, Nihon Jukagaku Kogyo). After WWII, he earned two master's degrees: one in the Teaching of English from San Jose State and another in School Counseling from the University of Oregon, Eugene. He taught English and Psychology and worked as a guidance counselor in a high school and community college. Upon returning to Takaoka, Jim was impressed by the site’s natural beauty, which he had never noticed as a POW.
*William Eldridge, 91 – Was a member of the Army’s 31st Infantry, "M" Company, 3rd Battalion. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was assigned Nichols Field in the Philippines as part of the perimeter defense. After the Japanese bombed the airfield Bill was sent to Bataan where they set up and defended a command post at the entrance of the peninsula. Bill suffered his first attack of malaria as he began the Bataan Death March, of which he remembers very little. In July of 1943, he went to Japan via the Hellship the Clyde Maru. He became a slave laborer mining coal for Mitsui at Fukuoka #17 Branch POW Camp in Omuta (click here for more on Fukuoka), where he severely injured his leg. After his return to the United States, Bill had an operation on his leg and was discharged with full disability. In 1948, he waived disability and reentered the Army. He first worked as a recruiter and then volunteered for duty in Korea. He stayed there for two hitches and then spent time in Japan, Germany and France, and other stations in the U.S., where he retired in 1963. See his bio here.
Warren Jorgenson, 92 – Among the last of the “China Marines”. He was with the 4th Marines stationed in Shanghai and deployed to the Philippines in November 1941. He fought in the defense of Corregidor where he was wounded. He was sent to Japan in 1944 aboard the Hellship Noto Maru and became a slave laborer at Sendai #6 (Hanawa) POW camp for Mitsubishi Goushi Company (today’s Mitsubishi Materials) The mine closed in 1978 and was turned into a museum, the Osarizawa Mine Historical Site that recounts the 1300-year history of mining the mountain. Visitors can also go through some of the main tunnels. An amusement park and museum opened in 1982 as “Mine Land Osarizawa.” In 2008, the site was renovated with the amusement section, Cosmo Adventure [Sic], focused on space-themed indoor shooting games. There is no mention of the slave laborers who worked the mine during the war. After the war, Warren graduated from Drake University and became a record industry executive. Warren reconnected with his high school sweetheart in 1995 and the two now live together in Pebble Beach.
William Sanchez, 95 – Was a Army Sergeant with 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, Battery “I” assigned to Corregidor. He remembers he was in combat continually for five months until the island was surrendered on May 6, 1942. Battery “I” was the first to fire on the enemy. He was taken to Japan aboard the Hellship Taga Maru to become a slave laborer at Niigata 5-B POW Camp unloading coal ships for Niigata Kairiku Unso, now part of the Rinko Corporation, however, POWs remember Rinko as their “employer”). He was moved to Tokyo #1 Base Camp, Omori where he was a slave laborer for Nippon Tsuun (today’s Nippon Express). Omori was one of the first POW camps to be liberated as intelligence indicated the POWs were about to be executed. He and Harry Corre appeared in the famous staged photo at the entrance of Malinta Tunnel of the American surrender on Corredigor.
*Lester Tenney, 93 – As the last National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, he successfully negotiated with the Government of Japan and the US State Department Japan’s 2009 offer of an apology to the American POWs of Japan and the program of reconciliation and visitation to Japan for former POWs. He was a tank commander from the famous?Maywood, Illinois National Guard, Company B, 192nd?Tank Battalion fought in the Battle for Bataan from December 1941 to April 9, 1942. He survived the infamous Bataan Death March, a Hellship, and slave labor mining coal for Mitsui at Fukuoka #17 Branch POW Camp in Omuta. Dr. Tenney is a professor emeritus of finance and accounting at Arizona State University. Japan’s rightwing has used anti-Semitic references to attack Dr. Tenney’s accounts of his torture by Imperial Japan’s Army and the horrors of the Bataan Death March. See his bio here.
Houston Turner, 91 – Was a rifleman in the 31st Infantry stationed in Manila. When the war started he fought on Bataan and fought with the guerillas after surrender on April 9, 1942. Suffering from untreated malaria and malnourishment, Cpl. Turner surrendered to Japanese forces at Mariveles in southern Bataan. He was among the last 50 POWs to make the Bataan Death March. This small contingent of POWs buried those comrades who preceded them on the March. In 1943 he was shipped to Japan on a Hellship. He first was a slave laborer for Nippon Seitetsu (today’s Nippon Steel) at Hirohata Osaka 12-B POW Camp. Then he was transferred to Nagoya Camp 9-B Jinzu Iwase, where he was slave laborer for Nippon Tsuun (today’s Nippon Express). Following the war he continued to serve in the Army until 1952 and worked for the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power September where he retired in 1988. See his bio here.
*Don Versaw, 92 – Among the last of the “China Marines.” He played the French Horn in the 4th Marines Band in Shanghai before he transferred to Corregidor in November 1941. He became an infantryman in E Company Second Battalion, Fourth Regiment. When Corregidor was surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942, he spent the next 40 months as a POW in the Philippines and in Japan. During captivity he was held on Luzon Island mostly on a work camp near Clark Air Base for more than two years. In July 1944 he was moved to Japan on the Hellship Nissyo Maru owned by Tokyo Senpaku K.K. He was sent to Fukuoka-#7B-Futase on Kyushu to be a slave laborer mining coal at Nittetsu-Futase Tanko Kaisha (still Nittetsu Mining Co., Ltd). This company paid enlisted men 5 sen per day for their labor. [(A sen is one hundredth of a yen)(One yen was then equal to ten American cents)] Deductions were made at the rate of 50% deposited in Japanese Postal Savings Plan where today the funds remain. Following repatriation, he stayed in the Corps. In 1950-51 he served in Korea with the 1st Marine Division in a Photo unit. After retirement in 1959 he worked in the aerospace industry for 13 years on the Saturn and Apollo programs. He completed 10 years of Civil service divided equally between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Air Force; he retired in 1984 with a total of 31 years federal service. See his bio here.