Sunday, June 02, 2019

Soto Dam Memorial

Stars and Stripes. SASEBO, Japan (May 23, 2019) - For more than 70 years Soto Dam has provided water to the citizens of Sasebo, but the construction of this vital water supply cost more than money and material. Members of Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Sasebo community came together to honor the 67 men who died in its construction during the annual Soto Dam memorial ceremony May 23, 2019.

Soto Dam was an Imperial Japanese Navy construction project that began in 1941 to alleviate water shortages in Sasebo. To complete the task 265 American civilian prisoners of war were used and the dam was completed April 1944. A total of 53 American POWs and 14 Japanese laborers died during the construction.

In 1956 Sasebo City erected a memorial tower beside the dam to honor all those who died during its construction.

“Their ability to look at the unpleasant events of the past and remember what occurred here permits us to come here together today and stand side by side to remember our fallen countrymen,” said Capt. Brad Stallings, CFAS commanding officer.

Remarks by Sasebo Mayor Norio Tomonaga, who was unable to attend the ceremony, were read by Sasebo City Base Affairs Administration Bureau Chief Director Ryuichiro Higashi.

The speeches were followed by the reading of the names of the fallen by members of the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force as wreaths were laid by Stallings and Higashi on behalf of CFAS and Sasebo, community leaders and the Navy League.

“We would like to remember in our hearts again that Soto Dam was built upon many sacrifices during the unfortunate history of war,” said Higashi during the ceremony. “I wish our friendship that has been built between U.S. and Japan will continue forever.”

The prisoners of war had been construction workers contracted to build the airfield and submarine facilities at Wake Island. When Wake was captured by Japan on Dec. 23, 1941 it had 1,100 civilian contractors on island, 265 of which were sent to work on Soto Dam in late 1942.

According to Phil Eakins, a local historian involved with the memorial, the POWs lived and worked in harsh conditions and received no medical treatment. Among the survivors it became known as the “Death Camp.” [The prisoner of war camp, Fukuoka #18-B, was primary labor source for construction of the dam.]

The dead were originally buried by fellow POWs on a nearby hillside but were repatriated to the U.S. around 1949.

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