Saturday, March 26, 2022

Reminding Congress of its debt to the POWs of Japan

Rep Mark Takano
On March 8, 2022, the president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, Ms. Jan Thompson, testified in person to the joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee to learn the legislative concerns of the country's Veteran Service Organization (VSO).

For years, the ADBC was only allowed to submit testimony for the record. This year, for the 80th Anniversary of Bataan Death March and the fall of the Philippines to the invading Japanese Empire, Ms. Thompson was invited to give testimony in person to remind the Committee members of the important American history she protects and how the sacrifice of the American POWs in the Pacific continues to inspire.

After Ms. Thompson's testimony, House Veterans Affair Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) said: 

Thank you, Ms. Thompson, for your testimony.  I will ask my staff to brief me on the status of the legislation that you have brought up.  

Let me just say that I, too, believe this history is so important.  The sacrifice of our World War II veterans in the Pacific and, specifically, those that served, those that endured the hellships and those that endured the Bataan Death March.  We must remember their sacrifice.  We must face up to history, no matter how terrible it is.  We must encourage our ally Japan, to do that.  We must live up to those ideals for ourselves, as well, to face our own history. So, thank you so much for your testimony and thank you so much for the work that you do.  



Ms. Thompson.  Chairmen Tester and Takano, Ranking Members Moran and Bost, and members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee, thank you for inviting me to speak about the American POWs of the Empire of Japan during World War II.  We honor these American men and women as the heroes who deserve recognition by Congress and America, as a whole.  They have largely been forgotten and we must remedy this.  

I represent the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society and I am the daughter of one of those POWs.  The ADBC-MS Society represents the men and women who defended American territories and allies in the Pacific, such as Guam, Wake, Midway, Java, the Philippines, and the Marianas.  

Within the first six months of the war, by June 1942, the majority became prisoners of war.  Our mission is to preserve the history of the American POW experience in the Pacific and to teach future generations of the POW's sacrifice, courage, determination, and faith, as this is the essence of the American Spirit.  

Like today's Ukrainians, the Americans in the Pacific were fighting a formidable invader.  The Empire of Japan also had far superior equipment and armed forces.  Although Guam fell within days of Pearl Harbor, the Marines and civilians on Wake Island held out for a legendary two weeks and the American and Filipino defenders in the Philippines repelled the Japanese Army for nearly 5 months.  They fought with outdated weapons, lacking medicine, ammunition, and supplies.  Help did not come from the United States.  

The men on the Bataan Peninsula were surrendered 80 years ago next month.  Those surrendered on Bataan endured what is now known as the Bataan Death March and, as Senator Tester said in his opening remarks, this April 9th, marks the eightieth anniversary of the Bataan Death March.  

Less than one month later, on May 6th, the fortress island of Corregidor was surrendered and the rest of the American and Filipino units scattered throughout the 7,000 islands of the Philippines soon followed.  

Some of you know about the Bataan Death March, but few of you know about the beheadings of Wake Island Marines or the machine gunning of American sailors who survived the sinking of the USS Houston or the deadly imprisonment in Japan of the indigenous people of Attu from Alaska.  

To survive the surrender was just one hurdle, because each day of the POW's captivity, three and a half years, was a constant struggle for survival.  All the POWs, American and Allied, were starved, denied medical care, refused clothing, routinely beaten, and murdered.  Some POWs became human experiments.  Some aviators were executed, followed by a ritualistic eating of their livers.  And others, without reason, such as on Wake and Palawan, were simply massacred.  

As the war progressed, the majority of the POWs were shipped throughout the Empire on what were called "hellships" to be slave laborers for private Japanese companies.  All of these hellships were unmarked.  Many were sunk by American bombers or submarines.  

Thousands of American POWs died by friendly fire.  For those who survived captivity, returning home presented another battle.  Some POWs were forced to sign gag orders about the horrors they experienced.  Many of them could not articulate what had happened to them or what they had witnessed and it took a very long time for the Veterans Administration to recognize they all had returned home with a disability.  

The sacrifice and resilience of the American POWs of Japan, especially in light of today's events, should not be forgotten.  Their courage continues to inspire. 

To this end, in this year of the eightieth anniversaries, I request that Congress immediately approve an accurate and inclusive Congressional Gold Medal for America's early defenders of the Pacific who fell to Japan.  They are the most diverse World War II cohort to be considered for the Congressional Gold Medal.  

The U.S.-Japan alliance is very strong today and we ask Congress to encourage the Japanese in the following:  to institutionalize the reconciliation program that was started in 2010 with the ADBC Memorial Society.  The current POW Japan Friendship Program should be expanded.  Japan's UNESCO industrial heritage sites need to acknowledge POW slave labor and a world-class memorial should be installed at the Port of Moji, where most POWs entered Japan on the hellships.  

The epic battles of Bataan and Corregidor were a symbol of hope and a beacon of our future success.  They should not be forgotten.  It is time to honor these men and women.  

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