|Mondale loved cigars|
By all accounts, even from the Vice President, Jimmy had a tough life with little help from his aunts and uncles. He lost both parents at an early age. His mother, Claribel Hope Mondale, a sister of Mondale's father died in childbirth when Jimmy was nine. After that he never lived in any one place for long, bouncing from relatives' homes or working as a farm hand.
At 21 in January 1941, Jimmy joined the Army. He was soon on his way to the Philippines, part of the rush to build up troops. He was assigned to the U.S. Army 60th Coast Artillery Corps helping man anti-aircraft guns on Corregidor with Battery F “Flint.” His commanding officer was Major Robert Douglass Glassburn, West Point ’32, who survived the sinking of Oryoku Maru and Enoura Maru, only to die upon arrival in Japan via the Brazil Maru on January 30, 1945 from malnutrition, exposure, and an infected leg wound.
Jimmy became a prisoner of Japan when the fortress Island fell on May 6, 1942. It can be assumed that he was herded with the 12,000 other POWs to the open-air, rocky beach of the 92nd Garage Area. For two weeks, exposed to the sun with limited water and provisions, he was held at this filthy, sinking few acres. It is possible he was given clean up duties or other tasks assigned by his capturers.
On May 25, the survivors were ferried to Manila, made to wade ashore, and forced on the “March of Shame” five miles down Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison. Over the next few days the men were loaded into train stock cars for transport to the Cabanatuan POW camp north of Manila. There they joined the survivors of Camp O’Donnell, many of whom endured the Bataan Death March. It is also unknown what assignments or illnesses he had during this period of his captivity.
In mid-December 1944, the Japanese rounded up all ambulatory POWs in the Philippines for transport to Japan. Some researchers believe that this was in preparation to locate all the POWs together in Japan or China to use as hostages in peace negotiations. More than 1,600 men were loaded in the hold of the passenger ship the Oryoku Maru in Manila on December 13, 1945.
By the time the ship got underway and made the 60-some miles up to Subic Bay at least 50 POWs died packed shoulder to shoulder in the dark, sweltering containers. On December 14 and 15, American planes from the USS Hornet and USS Cabot attacked and sank the ship. The first bombs destroyed the forward hold killing 200 men. Among them was Pvt Cowan.
Jimmy’s body rests with the sea. His name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Cemetery in Manila. If he had survived the attack, he would have had to endure a week on a barren, sun exposed tennis court before being put aboard the Enoura Maru or Brazil Maru to Formosa (Taiwan). If he was aboard the Enoura Maru, the same group of planes from the USS Hornet would have bombed the ship while in port. Four hundred men died from that attack.
The survivors were consolidated on board the Brazil Maru for the trip north to Japan’s frigid port of Moji. Of the 1,619 POWs who had boarded the Oryoku Maru in Manila, the Philippines, less than 600 survived to arrive in Moji, Japan on January 30, 1945. Of those, nearly 200 died in Japanese POW camps in Japan, Korea, and China, with most dying in the first few days at Moji. Only 403 men of the original 1,619 survived to be liberated in August 1945.
I became involved in Pvt Cowan’s story upon reading about the discovery on Corregidor, and subsequent return, of his dogtags to his sister in 2013. The story noted that their mother was former Ambassador Mondale’s aunt. This connection to a soldier on Corregidor was something no one had ever mentioned.
This was of personal interest, because in the spring of 1974, I was one of the first two female Exeter-Andover Washington interns (I was among the first classes of girls to attend Exeter). I was assigned to Mondale’s Senate office. Subsequently, I interned or worked for him while he was vice president and at his pre-presidential campaign law/consulting firm.
Thus, at a meeting in Washington, I approached him and asked him about his cousin. At first startled that someone knew this connection, he said yes that Jimmy was his cousin who he believed had died on the Death March. Most people think if someone fought in the Philippines they were on the Death March, which is generally not true.
I said Jimmy was not on the March and offered to put together some basic facts about his cousin. He was a bit hesitant, but agreed. Mr. Mondale, I discovered, had a very fraught relationship with his family. The Depression took a toll on family ties and he was estranged from his brothers.
In 2018, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society was planning a memorial ceremony and booklet for the placement of a memorial stone in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii to the men who perished on the Enoura Maru. It occurred to me that Mondale might see the booklet as a way to finally and properly remember his cousin.
Thus, I approached him again asking if he wanted a memorial page to Jimmy and offered to write it for his approval. It was not an easy yes for Mondale. He never asked if he could make a donation and hesitated to even review the draft. Nonetheless, he approved the draft shortly before the booklet was to go to press. It is significant that he did.
As Ambassador to Japan and afterward, Mr. Mondale was a keen and well-rewarded advocate for Japan. At two critical junctures he failed his cousin and undermined progress toward justice for the POWs of Japan. In 1995, when the Japanese government under Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama was putting together the Peace Friendship and Exchange Initiative, the U.S. State Department and Embassy in Tokyo, under his watch, did nothing to advocate for American POWs to be included in this extensive, multi-million dollar outreach program for Allied POWs. Thus, they were noticeably excluded.
The American POWs were not offered any program until they, themselves, advocated with the Japanese Embassy and the Obama Administration. Trips to Japan for former POWs did not begin until 2010. The result was that only a handful of POWs who survived to their 90s could benefit from Japan’s conciliatory effort. Some of the good feeling generated by the trips was undone by Abe’s April 29, 2015 [Hirohito’s birthday] speech to a joint meeting of Congress where he thanked the POWs for their “tolerance.”
In 2001, a group of American POWs of Japan were suing in the courts and advocating in Congress for a right to sue the 60-some Japanese corporations that benefited from their slave labor. Mondale worked closely with the Bush Administration and the Japanese Embassy to tell legislators and opinion leaders that allowing compensation for the POWs would abrogate the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty and undermine the entire U.S. treaty system.
Although the Dutch and others had long abrogated the treaty with their own side deals; and the issue of corporate compensation could easily be argued, especially after the 2000 Berlin Accords establishing payments to those who were slave laborers for German companies, the White House and the Japanese prevailed. On September 25, 2001, Mondale and former ambassadors to Japan Thomas S. Foley and Michael H. Armacost issued an op ed in the Washington Post, “Pacific Deal” mirroring a letter circulating in Congress by former Secretary of State George Shultz opposing legislation that would permit POW suits against Japan. The essay repeated Shultz, “I have always supported the best of treatment for our veterans, especially those who were involved in combat. If they are not being adequately taken care of, we should always be ready to do more -- but let us not unravel confidence in the commitment of the United States to a treaty properly negotiated and solemnly ratified with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.”
The campaign against the POWs was successful. Senator Daniel Inouye and his friend Senator Ted Stevens engineered killing in a November 8, 2001, 4:00 am conference meeting an amendment to the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and related agencies Appropriations Act, 2002, that would have prevented the Departments of State and the Justice from opposing POW lawsuits. And the Bush State Department filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, the young lawyer and Rhodes Scholar who composed the brief, was even awarded the Department of State’s “Superior Honor Award” in recognition of successful representation of the United States in numerous appeals involving World War II-era claims (2003).
One of the first things I learned in Senator Mondale’s office was when I was tasked to escort the Senator to a meeting. I was panicked as he seemed to refuse to gather himself to get to the meeting on time. When I worried he was going to be late, he put down his cigar and told the teenage me flatly, that “the important people are always late.”
Yes, Mondale was late to remember his cousin who died in service to his country. But, in the end, he did. Whereas the Japanese have escaped responsibility, he eventually embraced it.