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.