Time for the Gold Medal
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and HouseVeterans' Affairs Committee Joint Hearing
To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations
American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society
12 March 2019
AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF JAPAN
CEMENTING A LEGACY
Today, I want to speak to you about what it means to “Never Forget” our veterans. The men and women who became POWs of Japan over 70 years ago fought the early desperate battles of WWII in the Pacific and suffered some of its worst consequences. Nearly 40 percent did not return home. Those who survived had the highest rate of post-conflict hospitalizations, deaths, and psychiatric disorders of any generation of veterans. Their families endured and inherited their trauma.
If this history is forgotten, so too will the sacrifices of today’s veterans. It is an obligation to honor our veterans and to remember appropriately their contribution to our country’s history.
Before the last American POW of Japan dies, we believe that the appropriate civic remembrance for them is a Congressional Gold Medal that recognizes their unique history of perseverance, valor, and patriotism.
Most important, we ask Congress to approve an accurate and inclusive Congressional gold medal for the American POWs of Japan. It is a long overdue symbol of our commitment to veterans of past generations that we will “never forget.”
What we ask Congress
We ask Congress to encourage the Government of Japan to hold to its promises and responsibilities by preserving, expanding, and enhancing its reconciliation program toward its former American prisoners. We want to see the trips to Japan continued. We want Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicize the program, its participants, and its achievements. We want to see a commitment to remembrance. We believe that both countries will be stronger the more we examine our shared history.
We ask Congress to encourage Japan to turn its POW visitation program into a permanent Fund supported by Japanese government and industry. This “Future Fund,” not subject to Ministry of Finance yearly review, would support research, documentation, reconciliation programs, and people-to-people exchanges regarding Japan’s history of forced and slave labor during WWII. Part of the Fund’s educational programming would be the creation of visual remembrances of this history through museums, memorials, exhibitions, film, and installations. Most important, the Fund would support projects among all the arts from poetry, literature, music, dance, and drama to painting, drawing, film, and sculpture to tell the story to the next generation.
We ask Congress to ask and to instruct the U.S. State Department to continue to represent rigorously the interests of American veterans with Japan. It is only the U.S. government that can persuade Japan to continue the visitation program, to create a Future Fund, and to ensure that the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution include the dark history of POW slave labor.
We ask Congress to press the Japanese government to create a memorial at the Port of Moji, where most of the “Hell ships” docked and unloaded their sick and dying human cargo. The dock already features memorials to the Japanese soldiers and horses that departed for war from this port. Nowhere in Moji’s historic district is there mention of the captive men and looted riches off-loaded onto its docks. This must change.
Over the past few years, there have been Congressional gold medals given to groups that included American POWs of Japan. Eight members of the Doolittle Raiders were POWs, at least one Nisei member of the Military Intelligence Service was a POW, and nearly all the officers of the Filipino troops who were awarded Congressional Gold Medals were American.
Unlike previous WWII Congressional Gold Medal award groups that honor specific service units or ethnicities, the American POWs of Japan are both men and women from many ethnic groups, religions, services, and regions. For example:
- The 200th Coast Artillery (AA) on Bataan, the first to fire on the invading Japanese forces, was composed mainly of Hispanic Americans from New Mexico.
- The first tanker to die in WWII was Private Robert Brooks, a black man with the 192nd Tank Battalion from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, who was killed on Nichols Field, Philippines.
- Chinese-American, Eddie Fung, and Japanese-American, Frank Fujita, both fought on Java and were surrendered with the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, 36th Division (Texas National Guard).
- A statue before the St. Landry Catholic Church in Opelousas, Louisiana memorializes Army Air Corps Chaplain Father LaFleur who sacrificed his life while saving fellow POWs in the sinking of the hellship Shinyo Maru.
- The military nurses captured in the Philippines were the first large group of American women in combat and, counted with the Army and Navy nurses surrendered on Guam, comprised the first group of American military women taken captive and imprisoned by an enemy.
- Over 600 United States Merchant Marines, including one woman Mariner, became prisoners of Imperial Japan. Fifteen percent were killed by Japanese Imperial Navy officers during capture or died in Japanese POW camps.
- The first American POWs of Japan were Marines stationed in China and the last were Navy and Army aviators shot down over Japan.
- An Army Corps of Engineers Master Sergeant, Aaron Kliatchko, who died aboard a hellship is remembered as the “Rabbi of Cabanatuan” POW camp in the Philippines where he consoled Jew and gentile alike.
Seventy-eight years after the start of the War in the Pacific, it is time to recognize all those who fought the impossible and endured the unimaginable in the war against tyranny in the Pacific. Moreover, as I have described above, the Gold Medal would also recognize that we are the only American wartime group to have negotiated our own reconciliation with the enemy.
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