FOR THE RECORD
Senate Veterans' Affairs
Hearing on the
Fiscal Year 2019 Budget for Veterans’ Programs
and Fiscal Year
2020 Advance Appropriations Requests
American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial
21 March 2018
AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF
PROTECTING THE HISTORY OF WORLD
Chairmen Isakson, Ranking Member Tester, and Members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, thank you for allowing us to present the unique concerns of veterans of World War II’s Pacific Theater to Congress. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS) represents surviving POWs of Japan, their families, and descendants, as well as scholars, researchers, and archivists. Our goal is to preserve the history of the American POW experience in the Pacific and to teach future generations of the POWs’ sacrifice, courage, determination, and faith—the American spirit.
Today, I want to speak to you about how integral the American POW history with Japan is to our greater understanding of how we need to care for and remember all our veterans. These veterans had the highest rate of post-conflict hospitalizations and psychiatric disorders of any generation. Their traumas have had multi-generational consequences. Their history of perseverance and patriotism speaks to the need for the civic remembrance of our country’s veterans.
April 9th will mark the 76th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. By March 1942, Imperial Japanese Armed forces had destroyed the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and the U.S. Far East Air Force. On May 6, 1942, all the Philippines fell. These were the greatest military setbacks in American history and all happened in Asia where Imperial Japan started WWII for the United States.
On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japan attacked not only Pearl Harbor but also the Philippine Islands, Guam, Wake Island, Howland Island, Midway, Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Three days later, Guam became the first American territory to fall to Japan. Although the aim of the December 7th surprise attack on Hawaii's Pearl Harbor was to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet in its homeport and to discourage U.S. action in Asia, the other strikes served as preludes to full-scale invasions and military occupation.
Only in the Philippines did combined U.S.-Filipino units mount a prolonged resistance to Imperial Japan’s invasion. They held out for five months. On April 9, 1942, approximately 10,000 Americans and 70,000 Filipinos became POWs with the surrender of the Bataan Peninsula. April 9th also marked the beginning the 65-mile Bataan Death March. Thousands died and hundreds have never been accounted for from the March and its immediate aftermath.
By June 1942, most of the estimated 27,000 Americans ultimately held as military POWs of Imperial Japan had been surrendered. If Filipino soldiers, who were released before the end of 1942, and American civilians in Japan and throughout the Pacific are also counted, this number is closer to 36,000. By the War’s end, 40 percent or over 12,000 Americans had died in squalid POW camps, in the fetid holds of “Hell ships,” or as slave laborers for Japanese corporations.
Surviving as a POW of Japan was the beginning of new battles: that of acceptance into society and living with then-nameless mental and physical ailments. In the first six years after the war, deaths of American POWs of Japan were more than twice those of the comparably-aged white male population. These deaths were disproportionally due to tuberculosis, suicides, accidents, and cirrhosis. In contrast, 1.5 percent of Americans in Nazi POW camps died (as noted above this number was 40 percent as POWs of Japan) and in the first six years after liberation Nazi POW camp survivors deaths were one-third of those who survived Japanese POW camps.
Meet the special needs of all veterans
As the representative of veterans with the highest rate of post-conflict hospitalizations and psychiatric disorders, we encourage Congress to fight for adequate medical care, disability benefits, housing, and job training. We are especially supportive of the DAV’s efforts to expand access to the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) to severely disabled veterans.
And we applaud the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for approving S. 2193, the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 that extends caregiver benefits, which includes provisions to improve and phase in expanded eligibility for the VA’s Comprehensive Program for family caregivers. We also recognize Chairman Roe for his leadership in the House to address this inequity and encourage him to introduce companion legislation.
The VA’s current rule of granting benefits only to families of veterans injured on or after September 11, 2001 is plainly dismissive of members of our Greatest Generation, those veterans of WWII. Surviving POWs of Japan know well that their caregivers—their families—were instrumental in their reintegration into their communities and their ability to achieve the highest levels of recovery and quality of life. Family caregivers are critical members of every veteran’s health care. The American POWs of Japan and their families know intimately the difficulty of re-incorporation into civil society with little support as well as the toll PTSD and war-related illnesses takes on the entire family.
My members would welcome opportunities to discuss with you their caregiving experiences so that Senators and Members of Congress can better understand the importance of expanding caregiver assistance to all generations of veterans.
Progress Toward Remembrance, Reconciliation, and Preservation
An important aspect of showing respect and acceptance to returning servicemen and women is to ensure that they are not forgotten. This is the primary mission of the ADBC-MS. To this end, we have had a number of significant achievements in the last decade.