Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lessons of our 75th Anniversary

American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society, President’s Message, Ms. Jan Thompson, delivered to annual convention on May 20, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the fall of Bataan, the Bataan Death March and the surrender of Corregidor. It is also the 75th anniversaries of the sinkings of the USS Houston, USS Pope, USS Langley, and USS Perch as well as the capture of a Texas National Guard unit on Java that came to be known as the “Lost Battalion.”

As the years have passed, it can be argued that there is a fear that the sacrifice and the history of the POW experience under Imperial Japan will be forgotten both in the United States and in Japan.

But, the ADBC-MS has undertaken a number of activities and initiatives to prevent this from happening and to try to ensure that the history of our men and women is preserved and honored.

We have worked to provide visual, scholarly and political remembrance of the struggles, sacrifice, and stories of the POWs of Japan.

Maybe no better reflection of the success of our efforts was at last weekend’s Liberty University’s commencement. President Trump took six minutes out of his 30-minute speech to celebrate the life and “grit” of former POW of Japan George Rogers, a founding financial director of the University.

Trump, said to the graduates what we here already know, but we welcome it repeated by a contemporary American president:
If anyone ever had reason to quit, to give in to the bitterness and anger that we all face at some point, to lose hope in god's vision for his life, it was indeed George Rogers. But that's not what he did. He stood up for his country; he stood up for his community. He stood up for his family and he defended civilization against a tide of barbarity, the kind of barbarity we're seeing today and we've been witnessing over the last number of years
Presidential pronouncements aside, the ADBC-MS has worked hard to created and place memorials in Japan at locations of former prison camps. And we are pressing Japan to recognize POW slave labor at their newly established UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites.

We have contributed funds and prose for the building of these. Our friends in Japan--the POW Research Network—have worked tirelessly and selflessly with us in coordinating the placement and maintenance of these memorials.

Two years ago, we received our first, and so far only public corporate apology to POWs for there slave labor. But it was an important one. It came from Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, which is part of the larger, Mitsubishi Group, Japan’s largest and most important multi-national. Mitsubishi Materials still owns the land where Mitsubishi had four mines that are now closed.

This historic apology was the result of a lot of hard work and political savvy of our longtime friend and advocate, Ms. Kinue Tokudome in Japan.

Words are one thing. Seeing a permanent marker of contrition is another. Thus, this past November, Mitsubishi Materials allowed and paid for the installation of visual reminders of their dark history. Plaques, in English and Japan, were placed at the entrances of their four former mines. These memorials say:
Working conditions for the POWs were exceedingly harsh and left deep mental and physical wounds that the lapse of time would not heal. Reflecting on these tragic past events with the deepest sense of remorse, Mitsubishi Materials offers its heartfelt apologies to all former POWs who were forced to work under appalling conditions in the mines of the former Mitsubishi Mining Company, and reaffirms its unswerving resolve to contribute to the creation of a world in which fundamental human rights and justice are fully guaranteed.

Feeding into this success, are our eight years of organizing and managing the POW trips to Japan.

How many of you have participated in the Japan POW friendship trips? [Hands raised.]

For those who have gone to Japan you have found that these are not vacations—but days filled with meeting Japanese officials and citizens; American diplomats and students, and continuing to tell the POW story. These trips are also an important part of the US-Japan Alliance---where once we were fierce enemies, we have come to respect each other.

The Japan/POW Friendship trips were the brain child of Lester Tenney, who could not understand why such trips were offered to our allies, but not to Americans. He had made it his mission to correct this wrong. And he succeeded. As many of you know, Lester passed away only this past February.

The Friendship trips have been successful in helping people in Japan to understand the bitter experience of the POW—and for many of the participants it has helped them to realize that Japan has been transformed into a democracy and an ally, a very different country from the militaristic Imperial Japan that abused them.

These trips are an important legacy that Lester created.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has told us that there will be another trip this year. And officials have noted that their continuation is a sign that the government sees a great value in them.

There are also other initiatives in the United States to remember the POW history.

Those of you who went to White Sands this year in New Mexico saw that it has grown over the past 27 years [since 1990] to more than 7,000 participants who now annually march, run, walk to remember the Bataan Death March.

There are other Bataan Memorial marches around the country, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Dakota to remember the sacrifice the POWs of Imperial Japan made for our freedom.

And last year, California approved an initiative to include the history of the POWs of Japan in their State high school curriculum. The ADBC-MS will be working with California educators to ensure that that is curriculum is substantive, truthful, and meaningful.


Much has been accomplished, yet there is much to do.

The stories of the POW experience continue to inspire; they speak to the American spirit of resilience, persistence, and allegiance. We do not give up without a fight.

Most important, these "stories" are not just history. Americans still fight tyranny and we never give in; we do not yield to force, to injustice, to oppression, or to an enemy. This history ties us to our future.

But we all need to do things to continue to tell the POW story—we need to preserve and protect this history. We cannot be passive. We as descendants and historians cannot leave it to others.

We cannot stop telling our story and we must continue to look for and create opportunities for us to tell our history. We must use that same determination and perseverance that kept our men alive through their darkest hours to keep the memory and lessons of their history alive.

Thank you

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Faces of WWII

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Ichiro Sudai trained to be a kamikaze. Roscoe Brown was a commander in the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviators. Uli John lost an arm serving in the German army but ultimately befriended former enemy soldiers as part of a network of veterans—"people who fought in the war and know what war really means." These are some of the faces and stories in the remarkable Veterans (144 pages), the outcome of a worldwide project by Sasha Maslov (Interview) to interview and photograph the last surviving combatants from World War II. 

Soldiers, support staff, and resistance fighters candidly discuss wartime experiences and their lifelong effects in this unforgettable, intimate record of the end of a cataclysmic chapter in world history and tribute to the members of an indomitable generation. Veterans is also a meditation on memory, human struggle, and the passage of time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

President Trump recognizes American POW of Japan - True Grit

For over six minutes of his 30 minute speech, US President Donald Trump recognized George Rogers, a former POW of Japan who had survived the Bataan Death March, a hell ship to Japan, and slave labor at the Yawata Steel Mill.

In 2015, at 95, returned to Japan as a guest of the government as part of the 6th POW Friendship program.

George grew up in St Louis, Missouri and enlisted in the U.S. Army August 20, 1941, at Jefferson Barracks. He arrived on the Philippines October 1, 1941 and was assigned to 4th Chemical Company. At first a clerk/typist at Fort McKinley, he was soon fighting in the defense of Bataan with L Company of the 31st Infantry Regiment (US) after Japan’s December 8 invasion. Throughout the campaign, American forces were short of food, ammunition, and reinforcements against the better equipped and trained Japanese.

Bataan was surrendered on April 9, 1942, and most of the nearly 80,000 American and Filipino troops on the peninsula were forced on the infamous Bataan Death March. George endured the 65-mile trek up the Bataan Peninsula experiencing starvation, exhaustion, and beatings while witnessing merciless abuse, murders, and torture. At their destination, Camp O’Donnell, 1,500 Americans died in the first four months from disease, lack of food, and lack of hope. He was busy as a gravedigger.

In August 1942, he was moved to Cabanatuan #3 to farm rice and vegetables as well as forced labor building an airfield. On top of the beatings he received from the camp guards, George and his fellow soldiers suffered through extreme pain in their feet and legs due primarily to dry or wet beriberi, a disease affecting the nerves and muscles. He also survived malaria and spent six months quarantined for what was thought to be amoebic dysentery.

On July 17, 1944, he was one of 1541 POWs taken to Japan via Formosa in the hold of the Hellship Nissyo Maru. During the 18-day trip with barely any food or clean drinking water, extreme heat, rampant illness — both physical and mental—he said,  “I almost lost it, and then … I got a peace that came over me, and I just felt everything is going to be alright, just relax”; Rogers said. “As far as I’m concerned, God was at work again.”

After arriving at the port of Moji, Japan, he was sent to POW Camp Fukuoka 3-B Yawata Japan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd. (Nippon Seitetsu; today’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation) to work in the Yawata steel mill for the rest of the war. Yawata featured Japan’s first blast furnace and was one the Empire’s most important armament makers. It was the primary target for the second atomic bomb. Cloud cover from aerial bombing on August 8, 1945, however, prevented this. The conventional bombing did succeed in destroying the mill's key production facilities and ended prisoner work at the mill shortly before the war ended.

In July 2015, the Yawata Mill was given UNESCO World Industrial Heritage status, albeit without mention of the hundreds of POW slave laborers—American, British, Australian, Dutch, Portuguese, Jamaican, Indian, Malay, Chinese, and Arabians at the site. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had visited the facilities of Yawata Steel Works in July 2014, to encourage the UNESCO application. Again without acknowledgement of the multi-national labor force that keep the mill going during the war.

On August 15, 1945, the camp commander announced that the war had ended and the guards disappeared. The camp was liberated on September 13th. George returned to the U.S. a gaunt, 6-foot-3, 85 pounds. Military doctors told him that it was unlikely that he would live past 45 or 50, keep his teeth, or have children. Today at 98, he retains his teeth, has five children, and displays “a contagious joy.”

George used the G.I. Bill to obtain an accounting degree from St. Louis University. Starting in 1973, he became the CFO for Reverend Jerry Falwell (founder of the Moral Majority) overseeing his Old Time Gospel Hour television ministry and the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. He became Liberty University’s vice president of finance and administration in 1999, through to Rev Falwell’s death in 2007.

In 2010, Liberty University named an award in George's honor. The George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award is given annually to a man or woman who served in the United States Armed Forces and went above the call of duty, displaying extraordinary heroism while serving. The award is presented at a Flames football game during Liberty's Military Emphasis Week, held near Veterans Day. A bust of George stands at the gate of Williams Stadium, the home of the Liberty Flames football team, as a tribute to Rogers for his sacrifices. George was married 67 year to Barbara,who passed away August 2015.

President Donald Trump's remarks:

America is better when people put their faith into action. As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what's in your heart.


We will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings. America is beginning a new chapter. Today, each of you begins a new chapter as well. When your story goes from here, it will be defined by your vision, your perseverance and your grit. That's a word Jim Kelly knows very well, your grit.

In this, I'm reminded of another man you know very well and who has joined us here today. His name is George Rogers, Liberty University CFO and vice president for a quarter of a century. During World War II, George spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war. He saw many of his fellow soldiers die during the Bataan death march. He was the victim of starvation and torture as a prisoner of war. When he was finally set free he weighed just 85 pounds and was told he would not live past the age of 40. Today, George is 98 years old.


Great. That's so great, George.

If anyone ever had reason to quit, to give in to the bitterness and anger that we all face at some point, to lose hope in God's vision for his life, it was indeed George Rogers. But that's not what he did. He stood up for his country, he stood up for his community. He stood up for his family and he defended civilization against a tide of barbarity, the kind of barbarity we're seeing today and we've been witnessing over the last number of years.

And I just want to tell you, as your president, we are doing very, very well in countering it, so you just hang in there. Things are going along very, very well. You'll be hearing a lot about it next week from our generals. Things are going along very, very well.


Through it all, he kept his faith in God, even in the darkest depths of despair. Like so many others of his generation, George came home to a nation full of optimism and pride and began to live out the American dream. He started a family, he discovered God's plan for him and pursued that vision with all his might, pouring his passion into a tiny college in a place called Lynchburg, Virginia.

Did you ever hear of that? Lynchburg? We love it. Do you like it? We like it, right? I flew over it a little while ago. It's amazing, actually.

What started as a dream with a few good friends he helped shepherd into the largest Christian university in the world. Just look at this amazing, soaring, growing campus.

And I've been watching it grow because I've been a friend of Liberty for a long time, now, Jerry. It's been a long time.

Thanks in great part George's financial stewardship, hundreds of thousands of young hearts and souls have been enriched at Liberty and inspired by the spirit of God.

George, we thank you and we salute you. And you just stay healthy for a long time, George, thank you.