Friday, January 18, 2019


Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 4, (Senate - January 09, 2019) [Page S99]

Mr. [Brian] SCHATZ. Mr. President, today, we remember the 400 American and Allied prisoners of war who died 74 years ago from friendly fire aboard the Japanese hell ship Enoura Maru docked in Takeo Harbor, Formosa-- modern-day Taiwan. 

Among the dead were men who left their homes in America, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Czechoslovakia to fight an enemy they did not know, in places few of them had heard of, all in pursuit of a common cause: freedom, justice, and equality. These heroes were part of the infamous 45-day odyssey of the last transport of prisoners of war from the Philippines to Japan--captive since the American territory fell to Imperial Japan in the spring of 1942 after fighting to defend the Philippines. 

On the morning of January 9, 1945, dive bombers from the USS Hornet attacked the unmarked freighter holding 1,300 prisoners of war docked in the Japanese colony's harbor. Two hundred died instantly. Nearly everyone else was wounded. For 2 days, the men were left in the floating wreckage before the Japanese permitted the dead to be removed. Their remains were buried ashore in mass graves. 

After the war, the 400 victims of the bombing of the Enoura Maru were exhumed and eventually brought to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. They rest in 20 mass graves marked only as ``Unknowns January 9, 1945.'' Their families did not learn the final fate of their loved ones until 2001.

This past August, we remembered these brave men with a memorial stone on the Memorial Walk at the Cemetery honoring the prisoners of war aboard the hell ship Enoura Maru. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, an organization that represents the American prisoners of war of Imperial Japan and their families, organized the commemoration in Hawaii. 

That memorial stone is a monument to their courage, suffering, and sacrifice. It commemorates their tragic death 74 years ago and marks their final return home. Let that stone and our remembrance of the prisoners of war on the Enoura Maru remind us of our sacred commitment to veterans of all eras to "never forget.'' 

May they rest in peace.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Chinese-American WWII Veterans

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On Thursday, December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law:

S. 1050, the “Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act,” which provides for the award of a Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the Chinese-American Veterans of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II; and

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S. 2101, the “USS Indianapolis Congressional Gold Medal Act,” which provides for the award of a Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the crew of the USS Indianapolis, in recognition of their perseverance, bravery, and service to the United States.

The White House identified the signing on its website as a simple "Bill Announcement" and there appears to have been little or no White House ceremony. Neither bill was mentioned on the White House Facebook or Twitter. Both Gold Medals generated very little press.

The Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act orders the creation of the medal to recognize the 20,000 Chinese Americans who volunteered or were drafted in WWII when the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in place.

The bill to award the medal was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2017, the result of a campaign by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (C.A.C.A.) called the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project. It passed unanimously in the Senate this past September and in the House on Dec. 12.

There were a number of Chinese or Chinese Americans who became POWs of Japan. Most were aboard US Naval ships as stewards and cooks. There were possibly as many as 37 Chinese aboard the USS Houston (CA-30) when it was sunk in the Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942. The survivors were sent to be slave laborers on the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Pvt. Eddie Fung who was surrendered on Java with the Texas National Guard was also there.

The Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis was commissioned in 1932. It operated from Pearl Harbor and throughout the Pacific while participating in major battles during World War II, escorting convoys and attacking enemy submarines. The ship, unescorted, was returning from Tinian to the Philippines after its top secret mission delivering the uranium core for the atomic bomb.

After midnight on July 30, 1945, a Japanese submarine attacked the USS Indianapolis, sinking the ship within minutes. Approximately 1,200 U.S. servicemembers were on board. After five days afloat in the shark filled Pacific Ocean, just over 300 sailors survived. It was the worst sea disaster in U.S. Navy history. This recognition honors all the men who served, including the fewer than 20 living survivors, as well as those who died on board the Indianapolis.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Remembering the Hopevale Martyrs

On December 19, 1943, 75 years ago, Imperial Japanese soldiers stumbled upon 17 Americans hiding in the forest near Tapaz, Capiz on Panay. Eleven were Baptist missionaries, three were children. They had built an outdoor chapel in their hidden encampment. The next morning, after prayers, the adults were beheaded and the children bayoneted to death. 

In his 1977 memoir, The Blood and Mud of the Philippines: The Worst Anti-Guerrilla Warfare in the Pacific, Mr. Toshimi Kumai, former Adjutant and Captain of the Panay Garrison described the incident, which had shocked him. The Edge of Terror: The Heroic Story of American Families Trapped in the Japanese-occupied Philippines by Scott Walker (2009) is a contemporary account of the tragedy. 

Memorial Plaque at University of the Central Philippines
Iloilo-city, Panay

Replica in Wisconsin of Hopevale Chapel 
where the Japanese captured 
the Americans

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Palawan Massacre Anniversary

At noon on December 14, 1944, 150 American POWs building an airstrip on Palawan Island in the Philippines were sent to their recently constructed air raid trenches. Quickly, the Japanese troops doused them with buckets of airplane fuel and set them afire with flaming torches, followed by hand grenades and machine gun fire. Miraculously, 11 men escaped to the sea and were rescued by Filipino guerrillas.

Never Forget

Don Schloat (d. 2010), a San Diego artist and veteran who was a prisoner at the camp before the mass murder there, was the driving force behind a 2009 memorial at the site of the killings. With the help of the municipal government of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan’s capital, a permanent monument now graces a city park to honor the men who were slain (above).

Survivor's Story
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The massacre had haunted Schloat for decades. He completed a series of 77 paintings that depict the slaughter in abstract, impressionistic and realistic forms. Disappointed that the US government never erected a memorial, he took it upon himself to design and place a monument in Puerto Princesa City in 2009.

The site of the massacre actually has had a small monument that displays the names of the handful of survivors — Schloat’s name is mistakenly included — but there had been no official memorial to those who were killed.

The new one is a simple obelisk with bronze faceplates that tells the story of what happened and bears the names of the men who died there. A bronze statue created by Schloat sits atop the memorial. It depicts a tortured male figure writhing in pain as flames rise from his feet.

Schloat had been an Army medic at Bataan before being imprisoned at Palawan early in the war. Nearly two years before the massacre, Schloat tried to escape but was quickly captured and sent to Bilibid, a POW camp in Manila.

He spent the rest of the war there, racked with dysentery, beriberi, pellagra and scurvy. He learned of the massacre after he was liberated Feb. 4, 1945.

For an accurate accounting of all the POWs who were killed and survived see HERE.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Japan still struggles to escape its wartime past - of Slave Labor

South Korean court revives disputes that should have been settled long ago

By William Pesek, Nikkei Asian Review, November 1, 2018

Memories may fade, but history does not die away so easily, especially when competing versions of the past are at stake.

So, it is hardly a surprise that Japan's controversial Second World War record has once more been thrust into the limelight.

In the latest development, on Oct. 30, the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, two Japanese manufacturing companies active in the war, to pay $88,000 each to four Koreans as compensation for unpaid work between 1941 and 1943.

Far from trying to defuse the situation, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe immediately rejected the ruling, called it "impossible under international law."

When a quiet response might have reaped results -- and won time for reflection -- Abe pledged to hang tough, saying Tokyo "will handle this situation with firmness."

Japan argues that a 1965 Tokyo-Seoul treaty covers all manner of past sins. It normalized bilateral relations tainted by 35 years of colonial rule in Korea from 1910 to 1945. From Tokyo's standpoint, all issues concerning wartime labor were resolved 53 years ago and it is time Asia moved on.

Fair or not, that narrative is not traveling or aging well. If a court ruling involving four people (three of whom are dead) makes Abe and other Japanese nationalists squirm, imagine what lies in store if more Korean claimants pile in. Or if Chinese victims of Japanese rule again make their voices heard with Beijing egging them on.

Nor, unfortunately for Tokyo, is concern about Japan's wartime past limited to Northeast Asia. In the U.S., for example, Korean-Americans, are becoming quite skilled at hitting a particularly sensitive target: wartime "comfort women." Last month, Osaka ended its sister city relationship with San Francisco over a monument to wartime sex slaves -- a description not accepted by Japan.

With Tokyo still unable to reconcile its historical narrative with those of countries that it once occupied, the arguments will continue to cast an awkward shadow over present-day Japan, and Abe's efforts to reassert Japan's international influence.

Abe may technically be correct to argue that the 1965 treaty was final, but the law often does not have the last word in these painful historical disputes. Public pressure forced German companies to pay compensation to wartime forced laborers in the 1990s, long after the German government signed similar government-to-government agreements.

Moreover, Japan will be under particular international scrutiny over the next two years as it stages two global events important for its soft power -- the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Summer Olympics.

If Abe's team handles the Seoul court setback badly, it could create a fresh opening for international debate over World War II questions Tokyo would prefer see closed.

Bashing the neighbors for domestic gain is a tried-and-true North Asian strategy. It could reemerge given how both South Korean president Moon and Chinese leader Xi Jinping find themselves in precarious situations at home.

Moon faces a slowing economy and growing anger over his preoccupation with North Korean detente. While an important endeavor, Moon was elected in May 2017 to rein in the excesses of family-owned conglomerates and pivot to a "trickle-up" economic model. Moon's neglect of major reforms is depressing support for his administration. What better way than rally enthusiasm than bashing Japan?

Moon's left-leaning government earlier upended the 2015 comfort women deal Abe forged with his predecessor Park Geun-hye. Moon claimed a vast majority of Koreans "cannot emotionally accept" a deal many felt lacked sincerity -- or teeth, given the paltry 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) provided for a victims' fund.

We will see how Moon's party plays the issue going forward. One potential flashpoint: next year's 100th anniversary of the so-called March First Movement. Moon has set up a task force to plan the commemoration of a historic uprising against Japan's annexation.

But it is high time Japan raised its diplomatic game. For starters, Tokyo should accept the Korean Supreme Court ruling rather than lashing out as if an international body can intervene and overturn the judgment. Japan needs to realize, as Germany has long done, that below the legal element, these controversies have huge emotional and political depths.

My point here is not to compare Imperial Japan's leaders with Adolf Hitler's Nazis. But the historic tensions are getting in the way of the future. Something has been terribly lost in translation. Japan's government feels it clearly and adequately atoned for the 1930s and 1940s. Yet the outside world has never quite warmed to that position.

The problem, says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, is Tokyo's "been there, done that" approach.

Abe hardly seems ideal for finding new ways to reconciliation. His obsession with a "beautiful Japan" has long been freighted with nationalism -- from more patriotic school curricula to revising the pacifist postwar constitution so Tokyo can field a conventional military.

But this hawkish leader rightly seeks to open Japan. He has signed free-trade deals, eased curbs on immigration, highlighted the need for more women in the workforce and, yes, worked to mend fences with neighbors. The urgency for such steps is increasing with President Donald Trump's trade war.

To "escape the shackles of the past," Kingston says, Tokyo "needs to be humble about history. The future depends on managing the shared past."

For Japan, this must start at home. Tokyo's principal museum recording the Second World War is located at the Yasukuni Shrine where millions of dead soldiers are enshrined, including convicted war criminals headed by Gen. Hideki Tojo, the wartime prime minister. The museum's view is nationalist, to put it mildly, with only limited references to Japanese atrocities. It is time to prepare a more balanced public record.

One unavoidable discussion: reparations, which Tokyo has long dreaded. It has preferred to keep its head down, lavish overseas development assistance around Asia and hope things blow over.

The Seoul ruling is a reminder that they are not going away. Some 70 Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, face unpalatable judgments in 15 similar cases.

As the strongest Japanese leader in decades, Abe has the power to act boldly. No one really expects him to follow Willy Brandt and fall to his knees in remorse as did the German statesman in Warsaw in 1970.

But moving beyond Japan's wartime legacy requires serious action. Otherwise, Abe will struggle to burnish his stature as a world leader -- and Tokyo will be hit by new damaging court rulings.

William Pesek is an award-winning Tokyo-based journalist and author of "Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan's Lost Decades." He was given the 2018 prize for excellence in opinion writing by the Society of Publishers in Asia, for his work for the Nikkei Asian Review.