Thursday, April 10, 2014

National Former POW Recognition Day

On April 9, 1942, United States forces were surrendered on the Bataan Peninsula in The Philippines. This was the largest single group of American troops ever surrendered to an enemy, some 12,000, along with 76,000 Filipino soldiers serving in the U.S. forces on Bataan. Before the day ended, the infamous Bataan Death March began. Thousands died on this 65 mile trek up the pennisula. Already weak from exhaustion, starvation, and disease, the men were cruelly pushed  forward the Japanese soldiers who offered them little water, rest, or  food. Those that straggled were beaten, bayoneted or beheaded. Men were buried alive and run over by tanks. Worse, the inhumanity had just begun for these men. The prison camp where they ended the March was disease ridden with limited food and water. Through the summer, nearly 300 a day died. Survivors would soon be put on Hellships to Japan and its possesions to work as slave laborers for Japanese companies and the military. 

It is on this day, that we honor these men and those of other generations who became prisoners of war of our enemies.We honor their perservation and dignity maintained even in the most sordid conditions. Every year, the President issues a proclamation. Below is this year's.

Presidential Proclamation
National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, 2014



Since the earliest days of our Republic, the brave men and women of our Armed Forces have answered the call to serve. They have put their lives on the line for our Nation, and many have sacrificed their own freedom to safeguard ours. On National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, we honor those who stood up, took an oath, put on the uniform, and faced immeasurable challenges far from home.

These patriots often suffered physical and mental torture during captivity. Many endured starvation and isolation, not knowing when or if they would make it safely back to our shores. Families experienced days, months, and sometimes years of uncertainty, but they showed remarkable strength that mirrored the grit of their loved ones through long stretches of imprisonment. These warriors rendered the highest service any American can offer our country -- they fought and sacrificed so that we might live in peace, security, and prosperity.

Today, we are solemnly reminded of our responsibility to care for those who have borne these burdens for us. We recommit to honoring that sacred obligation -- to serving our former prisoners of war, our veterans, and their families as well as they have served us. With unyielding pride and unending gratitude, let us fulfill our promises to the courageous heroes of generations past, to this generation of veterans, and to all who will follow.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 9, 2014, as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day of remembrance by honoring all American prisoners of war, our service members, and our veterans. I also call upon Federal, State, and local government officials and organizations to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.f

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Testifying to Congress

Jan Thompson, POWs and movie stars

On March 12th, Jan Thompson, President, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society submited for the record a statement of goals and concerns of the Memorial Society to the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Joint Hearing To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations. She praised Japan for starting the process of reconciliation and reminds its leaders that much remains to be done. Her testimony is as follows.

American Prisoners of War of Japan
Preserving the Memory of World War II Veterans of the Pacific

Chairmen Sanders and Miller, Ranking Members Burr and Michaud, Members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, 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. Our goal is to preserve the history and communicate the enduring spirit of the American POW experience in the Pacific to future generations.

We applaud the efforts of the veterans’ service organizations to fight for adequate medical care and disability benefits. Moreover, the incidence and intensity of post-traumatic stress for American POWs of Japan were probably the greatest of any American war. POWs who survived the POW camps, the “hell ships” to Japan or its colonies, endured years of brutal imprisonment and slave labor. Upon returning from the Pacific War, they found a government reluctant to recognize and treat the mental and physical effects that were consequences of the deprivations suffered while POWs of Japan.

At the time, PTSD was not yet a medical category and VA doctors limited the POWs’ access to disability benefits by dismissing the after-effects of years of abuse, disease, and malnutrition. That should not happen to any veteran, and thus, we strongly support the legislative goals of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) to ensure medical, and mental health care, as well as to expedite disability claims, to provide rehabilitation, and to establish job-training programs for all American veterans. The American POWs of Japan and their families know intimately the difficulty of re-incorporation into civil society with little support.

Our task today, however, is to ensure that the history and lessons of the American POWs experience are preserved. This is an urgent task. In the United States this history is being forgotten, and in Japan it is being revised.

Remembrance, Reconciliation, and Preservation
The ADBC-MS was dismayed in 2012 when none of the 70th anniversaries of historic battles during the beginning of World War II were officially recognized. Astonishingly, December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy,” has not been recognized with a Congressional resolution for many years. We hope that future Congresses will remember the events that started American involvement in World War II with resolutions memorializing the simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbor and The Philippines Islands.

We appreciate efforts in prior Congresses to award Congressional Gold Medals to the troops who defended the Bataan Peninsula on the Philippines in 1941 and 1942 and became POWs. One limitation of past bills was that they omitted the many that were captured at this time on Corregidor, Mindanao, Wake Island, Guam, Java, in China, at the Sunda Strait, or aboard Merchant Marine ships. Later in the war, airmen shot down over the Pacific as well as those captured from destroyed Navy vessels became POWs. We hope that this or the next Congress will move forward with a Congressional Gold Medal bill that more fully recognizes American POW experiences with Imperial Japan during the Pacific War.

The former POWs of Japan leave many legacies and lessons. Among the most important is how they coped with the postwar traumas of inhumane imprisonment. They fought two battles. One was for recognition of their “battle fatigue” and the other for justice and remembrance. The former is now championed by all veterans’ service organizations. We ask Congress for support and to help our veterans in their unique quest for justice and remembrance.

In an interview published 23 January 2014 in The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second largest newspaper, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy said:
I want to take a moment to talk about history and reconciliation. This fall, there was an event that previously might have been thought unimaginable. A group of Americans who suffered as Japanese prisoners of war during the Second World War returned here at the invitation of the Japanese government. Participating took enormous amounts of courage for all those involved. 
There are many other examples of ways in which people here worked to build a peaceful future out of a difficult past. It is not easy, but citizens in all countries should encourage and support leaders who reach across history to build a peaceful future. It took courage on the part of the participants to come back to Japan and learn how Japan has changed.
As background to the Ambassador’s words, in 2009 the Government of Japan, through its Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro FUJISAKI, and again in 2010 through its Foreign Minister Katsuya OKADA, officially apologized to the American POWs of Japan. These Cabinet-approved apologies were unprecedented. Never before had the Japanese Government apologized for a specific war crime or done so directly to the victims. The Japanese Government further initiated a program for American former POWs to visit Japan and return to the places of their imprisonment and slave labor. Thus far, there have been four trips, one each in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Imagine our dismay when we learned that Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo ABE, may rescind or revise Japan’s war apologies and end the POW/Japan Friendship Program. As Ambassador Kennedy has pointed out, the Program is a great success. The benefits of this long-awaited act of contrition have been immeasurable for former POWs and their families as well as for the U.S.-Japan Alliance.

The success of this visitation program should encourage Japan to do more. The Program should not end with ability of the nonagenarian POWs to visit Japan or with their deaths. A POW’s captivity has multigenerational effects on families. The wives, children, and siblings of those who died suffered irreparable loss. In addition, the families of those who survived suffered from the long-term physical and mental health problems caused by the ex-POW's years of cruel captivity. Reluctantly recognizing this, Japan’s Foreign Ministry last year allowed two widows of POWs to join the trip. This should be continued and increased. Brothers, sisters, children, and other descendants have all been profoundly affected by the POW experience of their relatives and they should be eligible for future programs.

We ask Congress to encourage the Government of Japan to preserve, expand, and enhance its reconciliation program toward its American former prisoners. We want to see the trips to Japan continued and extended to include descendants and researchers. We want the visitation program drawn into a permanent program of research, documentation, reconciliation, and people-to-people exchanges that is not subject to the Japanese government’s yearly budget review. We want this program to create national memorials to the POWs who slaved and died on Japanese soil and territories as well as aboard the “hell ships.” We want Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicize the program and its achievements.

We also want the many companies that brutally used POWs as slave labor and who now profit in the American market, to join with their government by acknowledging their use of forced labor and by offering their own acts of reconciliation. Over 60 Japanese companies, such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Hitachi, Toshiba, Kawasaki, Nippon Steel, Nippon Express, Nippon Sharyo, Ube Industries, Showa Denko, and Yawata Steel maintained war production by cruel exploitation of American and Allied POWs.

Prime Minister Abe is in a unique position to extend and enhance the visitation program and reconciliation efforts. By doing so, he can engender trust among the Americans who protect Japan by honoring their country’s veterans. And he will signal to Japan’s other wartime victims that meaningful reconciliation, as Ambassador Kennedy pointed out, is possible. The POW/Japan Friendship Program is one that confronts the past while preserving the dignities of both Americans and Japanese.

We are grateful for the State Department’s efforts to encourage the Japanese government to do the right thing by initiating this process of reconciliation. We recall that in 1995 the Japanese government established the Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiative that included a multi-million dollar program of reconciliation and exchange with all former Allied POWs except American POWs. We want Congress to encourage the State Department to continue to make up for lost opportunities and time.

It is our hope in addressing this hearing that we can encourage Congress to work with the Obama Administration to persuade Japan to hold to its promises and responsibilities. Japan needs to be encouraged to do more. We trust that Congress will encourage Americans to honor and remember the brave and honorable soldiers who sacrificed so much during the first months of the World War II. Congressional resolutions and the Congressional Gold Medal are important parts of this responsibility and remembrance.

The American POWs of Japan and their families have paid a high price for the freedoms we cherish. What they ask in return for their sacrifices and service is for their government, even after some 70 years, to keep its obligations to them. They do not want their history ignored or exploited. They do not ask for further compensation. What they want most is to have their government stand by them to ensure they will be remembered and their American history preserved.

Thank you for this opportunity to address your committees.

Friday, March 07, 2014

This week in Washington for American vets

The Week of March 10th features a number of programs and hearings of interest to the POW community. The first meeting discusses the successes and limitations of people-to-people exchanges in the reconciliation process. This is of particular interest to those who have or plan to participate in the POW/Japan Friendshp Program for American former POWs of Japan.

There are also three programs on the funding of veterans' programs and the forthcoming year's legislative agenda of veterans' organizations.

You can watch all these programs and hearings via the Internet.

Evaluating People-To-People Reconciliation Programs: Findings, Conclusions and Feedback. 3/11, 9:00 am-3:00pm. Sponsor: The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Speakers: Susan Allen, director of George Mason University's Center for Peacemaking Practice; Melissa Brown, director of the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); David Hunsicker, Asia and Middle East team leader in the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation at USAID; Kelly Skeith, deputy director for performance evaluation at Social Impact; Mathias Kjaer, evaluation specialist at Social Impact; Liz McClintock, founder and managing partner at CMPartners; and Melanie Greenberg, president and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding. The event will be webcast at

Veterans' disability, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and postwar adjustment: Are we doing what's best for vets? 3/13, 10:00am-Noon, Washington, DC. Sponsor: The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) -Speakers: Daniel Gade, assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy; Kyle Greenberg, research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Richard McNally, director of clinical training at Harvard University, participate in a discussion on "Perverse Incentives and Their Effects"; David Eisler, master's candidate at Columbia University; Sally Satel, resident scholar at AEI; and Stephen Xenakis of MindCare Solutions, participate in a discussion on "Correcting a Flawed System".
The event will be streamed live at

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing
3/12 - 10:00 am. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and House Veterans' Affairs Committee joint hearing on the legislative presentations of Paralyzed Vets of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Gold Star Wives of America, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Fleet Reserve Association, the Air Force Sergeants Association, the Non Commissioned Officers Association, and the American Ex-Prisoners of War. This hearing will be live streamed.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee - Hearing
3/13 - 10:00 am. Full committee hearing on "U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Request for FY2015." Witness(es) TBA

Never The Same: The Prisoner Of War Experience

Loretta Swit and former POWs of Japan
The documentary, Never The Same: The Prisoner Of War Experience, will be shown in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The film is narrated by MASH-star actress Loretta Swit. Her all-star supporting cast includes Ed Asner, Alec Baldwin, Jamie Farrell, Robert Forster, Christopher Franciosa, Robert Loggia, Christopher Murray, Don Murray, John O’Hurley, Kathleen Turner, Robert Wagner and Sam Waterson.

More than 20 years in the making, this documentary depicts the experience of American POWs of Imperial Japan during World War II and reveals their indomitable will to survive. Our honored guests at all four screenings will include former POWs, Narrator Loretta Swit and Director Jan Thompson. A brief Q & A session will follow each film.

Film screening times are Friday, March 21 at 7pm; Saturday, March 22 at 3pm and 7pm, and by popular demand, Monday, March 24th at 7pm. Tickets are $12 general admission and may be purchased on-line at , at the Doña Ana Arts Council offices located on the second floor of the Rio Grande Theatre, or at the door. Doors open one half hour before show time.

The Rio Grande Theatre is located at 211 N. Main Street, Las Cruces, New Mexico. For tickets and more information call (575) 523-6403 or visit

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bangka Massacre

Seventy-two years ago today, the SS Viner Brooke and a convoy of ships were sunk by Mitsubishi Zeros in the Bangka Strait. The survivors, evacuated from Singapore, washed up on Bangka Island, east of Sumatra. Australian women, children, wounded soldiers, and army nurses found themselves without shelter, food, or protection.

With few choices, the civilian women and children set off to find the invading Japanese so that they could surrender. Left behind were the wounded, 100 British troops from another bombed ship, 22 Australian nurses, and an elderly lady.

On February 16, Japanese troops discovered these survivors on Radji Beach. The soldiers immediately rounded up the men and took them over a bluff. After hearing several bursts of machine gun fire, the women on the beach knew the men were gone. The Japanese detachment returned, cleaned their bloody bayonets, and reloaded their guns.

They then ordered the 22 Army nurses, two of them wounded, together with the elderly civilian, to march into the sea, line abreast, and face the sea. It was about noon; the sea was tranquil, a light breeze played, palms lined the tropical shore. The nurses wore their grey dresses and Red Cross armbands. The Japanese soldiers then machine-gunned the women and left their bodies to float as so much debris onto the shore.

One survived.

Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, struck by a bullet that pierced her thigh, floated on the sea in shock. She gathered her wits and pretended to be dead until the Japanese left. She hid with a wounded British private for 12 days before deciding once again to surrender. They were taken into captivity, but the private died soon after. Bullwinkel was reunited with survivors of the Vyner Brooke. She told them of the massacre, but none spoke of it again until after the war lest it put Bullwinkel, as witness to the massacre, in danger. Bullwinkel spent three and half years in captivity; she was one of just 24 of the 65 nurses who had been on the Vyner Brooke to survive the war.

In captivity, the nurses and civilian women recall that their Japanese captors tried to "coerce" them into becoming Comfort Women in brothels set up by their military. Refusing meant that they faced starvation and other deprivations. Few felt that there was a choice. One nurse, Elizabeth Simmons records in her book, While History Passed that “I think all the girls would agree that this club [brothel] experience was the most repulsive and unpleasant in our whole imprisonment. I know it stands out grimly in our memory.” 

Another nurse, Betty Jeffrey in White Coolies notes that “Somebody suggested that we should all swear never to mention it, or tell any tales about anyone if and when we were released.” And nobody ever broke that promise. Simmons' book was the basis of the movie Paradise Road.

Nurses Memorial on Bangka
On March 2, 1993, in the presence of seven of the surviving nurses, including Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, the Nurses Memorial was dedicated on Bangka Island.

It is situated near, Radji Beach, the spot where survivors of the sinking of SS Vyner Brooke came ashore and where 21 Australian Army nurses were massacred.

The memorial incorporates stone from the: 'Women's Camp' which the Australian Army nurses occupied for a time as Prisoners of War. A bronze plaque records the names of all 65 nurses who were aboard the SS Vyner Brooke
Bangka Island is reputedly the setting for Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Japan's War on History Comes to America

On February 6, 2014, the foreign policy journal The National Interest ran on its award-wining opinion pages, an essay by ADBC former National Commander Edward Jackfert. Mr Jackfert, 92, lives in Wellsburg, West Virginia and Tampa, Florida. For many years he was in charge of the ADBC's legislative agenda and saw first hand both on the national and state level Japanese government lobbying undermine the American POWs of Japan efforts for justice. His experience, thus, motivated him to write the following:

Ed Jackfert
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has a promise to keep. And it is a promise that tests his and any American governor’s ability to stand up for his constituents against economic blackmail. During his campaign he vowed to support having school textbooks note that the Sea of Japan is also called the East Sea. Japan has reacted to this small addendum by threatening to withhold trade and investment from the Commonwealth.

Japanese ambassador Kenichiro Sasae and a pack of lobbyists have warnednn Governor McAuliffe that allowing two names for the body of water between Japan and South Korea, North Korea, and Russia would endanger Japanese investment in the State. The Japanese government wants to retain a linguistic vestige of Western expansionism and Japanese colonialism. Korea was a colony of Japan through half of the twentieth century and was forced to abandon its language, geography, history and culture.

As a former prisoner of war of Japan, I am familiar with the Japanese government’s use of economic threats to defend its colonial era history and unwillingness to take responsibility for Imperial Japan’s war crimes. Tokyo used these against legislation in 2001 in West Virginia to kill a resolution calling on the Japan to offer a formal apology and compensation to former prisoners of war.

In the spring of 2001, the Rules Committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates unanimously approved House Concurrent Resolution No. 7. As this happened at the end of the legislative session (81st), the full House did not have time to consider the resolution. I was assured that it would be approved in House and Senate in the following year during the 82nd Legislature.

Japan’s Consul General in New York reacted to this delay by sending a letter to West Virginia legislators, Governor, and others stating that the “positive cooperation and strong economic ties” between Japan and West Virginia might be damaged if the resolution was approved. Japan would not buy the state’s coal and steel. His warning was successful and the result was that neither chamber of the Legislature ever reconsidered the resolution.

The Japanese government’s repeated intervention in efforts to set history straight is a painful reminder of the indignities I endured at the hands of my Japanese captors. I was a U.S. Army Air Corps mechanic, surrendered on May 6, 1942 at the fall of the Philippines. I became one of the thousands of POWs shipped to Japan in fetid holds aboard “hell ships” owned by Kawasaki's K-Line or Mitsubishi's NYK. In Japan, I was brutalized and humiliated as a slave laborer by four prominent Japanese companies during World War II. I was forced to work for Mitsui, Nippon Steel, Showa Denko, and Nisshin Flour Mills*.

There were over sixty Japanese companies that used American and Allied POWs as well as Dutch, Indian, Korean, and Chinese civilians for slave labor. Most are major corporations that still exist and likely do business in Virginia. None have acknowledged or apologized for their use and abuse of these unwilling workers.

Virginians once questioned why a French company (Keolis) that is unapologetic for the Holocaust is allowed to service their VRE rail line. They should now ask why Sumitomo, Kawasaki, and Mitsui rail cars run on the VRE. Conditions in their factory camps (yes, plural) rivaled the inhumanity in those of the Nazis.

I think the Virginia governor should stand up to Japanese threats and ask that maybe it’s time for a means test of corporate responsibility for Japanese companies that want state contracts. Too many Virginians, native born and immigrant, suffered horribly for these companies to now allow them to operate with impunity in the Commonwealth.

No governor should allow a foreign government to blackmail his state. Further, no American should allow a foreign government the opportunity to again humiliate its once subjugated peoples. In the end, Governor McAuliffe must decide what lesson that he wants Virginia’s school children to learn: that there are reasonable alternatives to geographic names or that their governor can be swayed by intimidation.

*See this link for descriptions of POW camps:
Toyko 17B (Nisshin Flour Milling), Tokyo 16B (Showa Denko), Tokyo 2B (Mitsui), and Tokyo 5D (Japan Steel Pipe, today's JFE Holdings).

Edward Jackfert, a native of Wellsburg, WV, was a POW of Japan captured on Mindanao, The Philippines. He was twice National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A POW responds to Abe's Yasukuni visit

One Za of the Chinreisha
On December 26th, Christmas Day in the United States, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine. At the Shrine, Abe also visited the Chinreisha, which is to pacify and acknowledge Imperial Japan's enemy combatants both domestic and foreign. This small shrine gated to the south of the main Yasukuni sanctuary is intended to keep the souls of these former adversaries, who are enshrined collectively, from causing mischief to the living.

I paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine and expressed my sincere condolences, paid my respects and prayed for the souls of all those who had fought for the country and made ultimate sacrifices. I also visited Chinreisha, a remembrance memorial to pray for the souls of all the people regardless of nationalities who lost their lives in the war, but not enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine.
While praying for the souls of the war dead, the preciousness of peace Japan enjoys today really came home to me. 
The peace and prosperity Japan enjoys today is not created only by those who are living today. The peace and prosperity we enjoy today is built on the precious sacrifices of numerous people who perished on the field wishing for the happiness of their loving wives and children, and thinking about their fathers and mothers who had raised them.
An American former POW sees this visit differently. He was not convinced that Abe's visit to the Chinreisha included contrition for the American soldiers. To be "pacified" is not enough.

Never should it be forgotten that Japan's victims were not all Asian. Westerners put in Imperial Japan's care, refugees, internees, laborers, POWs, all became victims of the barbarity of Japan's Armed Forces.

Lester Tenney, Survivor of the Bataan Death March, a Hellship, and a Mitsui coal mine; and Past National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor wrote his feelings to his local newspaper, the San Diego Times Union. Although the newspaper published the letter, it did not post it (text below) online.

“Leader’s war shrine visit raises questions.”

Letter to the Editor, December 27, 2013

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his visit to the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo was to pay respect to fallen soldiers. After reading about his recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, I felt that it is important that I share with you my thoughts and the thoughts of many survivors like me.

I assume he was are referring only to the Japanese soldiers, because if he had intended to include all soldiers then I ask what the respect would have included. Would you have included the Americans who died as a POWs on the Bataan Death March, or those proud American soldiers who perished while being transported to Japan on unmarked Japanese freighters, and those who died while forced to work for Japanese companies? If he thought of these soldiers, then we survivors thank him for understanding these sad events. On the other hand, if these Americans were not remembered then I ask, how dare he to say he paid respect to all fallen soldiers?

The Yasukuni war shrine you visited is known as The Tokyo War Shrine, a most unusual place to visit while preaching the need for Peace. I, like many others reading about the recent visit to the shrine, are confused. What is he trying to convey?