Friday, August 15, 2014

Liberation Day


I was one of many who were in [Fukuoka, for Mistsui Mining] Camp 17 in Omuta, Japan on that exciting day, August 15, 1945. We went to the coal mine, but didm;t go down, instead we were brought back to camp. Then came call for all of us to go intro the mess hall where we were given a full Red Cross Box. At noon we were offered all the rice we wanted to eat, and at roll call at about 6PM our Japanese camp commander, Uri, drove onto the parade ground and, with all trucks surrounding us, with machine guns on top of the trucks, said to us.."Japan and the United States are now friends." and he and the trucks drove off leaving us standing there, free men. What a day to remember.
Lester Tenney # 264, Camp 17, barracks # 4, Bataan Death March survivor

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Guam - 70th Anniversary of Liberation Day

Fireside Chat at War in the Pacific National Historical Park,
July 19, 2014
On July 21, 1945 the first US Marines landed on the island of Guam. After nearly two and one-half years of brutal Japanese rule, liberation had begun. Liberated, not reoccupied, was how the survivors felt.

The Japanese invasion was December 10, 1941,  days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Renamed “Omiya Jima” (The Great Shrine Island), Guam became an important base for Japanese military operations. Most Americans were shipped to POW camps in Japan while some of the American women left behind were rumored to become Comfort Women. Chamorro men were pressed into forced labor, Comfort Women were imported, and Japanese Catholic priests were brought in to pacify the people.

In the last weeks of the war, survivors say that the Japanese abandoned all humanity. Beatings, beheadings, murders, and rapes--raw rage--confronted the people of Guam as the Japanese invaders desperately fought the Marines. Adding to the chaos, the American naval and aerial bombardment of Guam killed and maimed countless civilians.

The result is a lingering bitterness toward both the Japanese and Americans. There is a sense on the island that so much was sacrificed, but so little appreciated or recognized. For years, like the American POWs of the Japan, the people of Guam have asked for some sort of ex gratia payment for their unique suffering. As you can see from the recent news story on the demise of H.R. 44, Guam has been no more successful than the POWs.

Senate rejects Guam war claims
Jun. 20, 2014 Written by Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News

U.S. citizens on Guam could get priority treatment when it comes to federal housing assistance, according to an Omnibus Territories bill approved yesterday by the U.S. Senate, but Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo expressed disappointment that the Senate once again rejected a provision to pay war claims to Guam.

According to Bordallo's office, four Republican senators: Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee; John Barrosso, of Wyoming; Mike Lee, of Utah; and Tim Scott, of South Carolina, removed Guam war claims from the bill, and also a provision that would have saved the local government as much as $500,000 in local matching funds for federal grants.

The Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee left those provisions intact in the bill it worked on, according to Bordallo's office, but they were removed before floor consideration by the full Senate because of objections raised by the four Republicans.

"I am extremely disappointed that H.R. 44 was removed from the Omnibus Territories Act that was passed by the U.S. Senate this evening," Bordallo said yesterday in a written statement. H.R. 44 is her latest war claims bill for Guam, introduced in January 2013, and included in the Omnibus Territories bill last summer.

It would tap federal section 30 funding for Guam -- income taxes paid by the island's federal employees -- to fund reparations for Guam residents who suffered during the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II. It called for payments of as much as $15,000, using an increase in section 30 money expected from the pending military buildup.

Guam is seeking reimbursement from the federal government and not Japan because the United States decades ago forgave Japan's war debts.

There is no official cost estimate for Guam war claims, but news files cite a figure as high as $80 million. That's less than half the cost of earlier reparations bills.

'Ideological grounds'

"Passing war claims has been a long standing issue for our community and has been an effort that Congressmen Won Pat, Blaz, and Underwood, and I have all worked to resolve. The latest version of the bill addressed every concern that has been raised by conservatives, and it would have had no impact on federal spending. Despite addressing each of these concerns, several U.S. Senators continue to object to this bill on ideological grounds and have fundamental objections with opening reparations for any group."

Congress came close to approving war claims in 2009, when the Senate offered to pay war claims, but only to survivors of the war, and not their descendants. Bordallo at the time rejected the offer, saying she wanted descendants to be paid as well.

Her war claims proposals have been rejected ever since.

According to Pacific Daily News files, critics of the reparations bill, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., remain influential and conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation, are ready to challenge the measure if it advances.

Some Guam lawmakers in early 2013 opposed the idea of using section 30 funding for the payments, arguing Guam would be paying the debt with its own money.

They relented, however, after Bordallo said the measure had no chance of moving forward without a way to offset the federal government's costs. They passed a resolution supporting her bill.

"I will continue to work to find a resolution that finally recognizes loyalty of the people of Guam during World War II," Bordallo said yesterday.

"I will consult with the governor and the Legislature and on our remaining options to advance war claims I am committed to continuing our fight for war claims for our manamko' despite all the obstacles the conservative Republicans continue to raise."


WAR CLAIMS TIMELINE

• May 9, 2007: The Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act passes the House by a vote of 288-133. The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

• April 17, 2008: The U.S. Senate attempts to pass the Guam war claims bill. The effort fails after Republican Sen. Jim DeMint from South Carolina objects to a motion for a unanimous consent.

• January 2009: Bordallo reintroduces the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act as H.R. 44.

• February 2009: The House passes a $126 million bill to compensate Guam victims of the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II. The House sends the bill to the Senate for the second time. The House approves the same bill in 2007, only to see it stall in the Senate.

• June 26, 2009: Bordallo includes the war claims bill in the House version of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, saying the war reparations measure has a better chance of passing now.

• Oct. 7, 2009: A conference committee composed of House and Senate members decides not to include the measure in the defense bill. Bordallo rejects a compromise offered by the Senate "because it would not recognize all of those who endured Guam's occupation," she said.

• 2011 and 2012: Attempts to pass the measure fail.

• Jan. 4, 2013: Bordallo introduces another Guam war claims bill, which would tap the island's federal section 30 tax money related to the military buildup as a funding source.

• May 2013: Bordallo's war claims bill is incorporated in a House of Representatives Omnibus Territories bill.

• June 18, 2014: The Senate passes the Omnibus Territories bill, but removes the Guam war claims provisions.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Olympian, Airman, POW, Inspiration

On July 3rd, Louis Zamperini died. He had faced death many times as a young man. And defied the "odds" many more. As a POW of Japan he was beaten, starved, degraded, experimented upon, and dehumanized. It was with God's grace that he survived to be 97.

On this coming Christmas Day, the triumph and inspiration of his life will be released as a movie that is based on the still-best seller Unbroken. See below for the just released "unofficial" trailer.

It is hoped that the movie will inspire today's Japanese corporations that used and abused the POWs they requested from Imperial Japan's Army Ministry to finally acknowledge how they treated POWs and to offer an apology. Zamperini, as noted in the essay honoring him below, was tormented by Japanese corporate employees as much as by soldiers.

All the companies that allowed their employees to abuse Zamperini, such as the infamous Bird, to abuse their POW slave laborers still exist: Nippon Express, ShinEtsu Chemical, and Nippon Steel and Sumikin Stainless Corp. (NSSC, formerly Nippon Stainless). Although Bird was a military POW guard, his job was to ensure discipline for the company that used the camp's slave labor. It is likely that he was, like many guards and camp employees, paid by the company. As it was, the companies had already paid the War Ministry for the "white slaves" as they were called.



Farewell to America’s ‘Unbroken’ Hero
The Weekly Standard, July 9, 2014
by Dennis P. Halpin (A former Peace Corps volunteer in Korea and a former adviser on Asian affairs to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins) and a consultant to the Poblete Analysis Group)

America, just before its Fourth of July birthday, lost one of the greatest of the generation that guided it through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Louis Zamperini was 97, so this was not entirely surprising. Zamperini, the American who couldn’t be broken by Nazis in Berlin or sadistic guards in POW camps in Japan, had been designated to be the grand marshal of the 2015 Tournament of Roses parade. My grandfather, a World War I veteran, used to say “give me my roses while I’m alive.” Unfortunately, the Rose Parade organizing committee waited too long. (Zamperini will still be honored posthumously as grand marshal next New Year’s Day.)

“Lucky Louie,” as he called himself, was a rambunctious kid from an immigrant family, who learned to use his fists after being picked on in school for speaking the broken English he learned from his Italian father. He referred to himself in his memoirs as “a rebel with a chip on his shoulder,” sort of like one of those Hollywood “Little Rascals” for which his prewar generation was famous. After several run-ins with the Torrance, Calif., police and the local parish priest, Louie’s older brother Pete introduced him to athletic running as a means of focusing his energy. Louie began competing in track in what he referred to in his book Devil at My Heels as “the first wise decision of my life.”

The rest is history. The track record of “the Torrance Tornado” took him all the way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and a handshake with Hitler himself. Louie did not medal—he said he was saving that for the anticipated 1940 Tokyo Olympics. (Zamperini, of course, made it to Japan, but only as a POW slave laborer.)

But Zamperini had run an astonishing 56 seconds in the final quarter mile of the 5,000 meter event in Berlin so the Fuehrer wanted to meet him. Goebbels brought Zamperini to Hitler who observed, “you’re the boy with the fast finish.” Louie said the American athletes in 1936 considered Hitler “only as a dangerous clown.”

Louie still had some of his rambunctious qualities because, on a tour of Berlin with a teammate, he decided that he wanted a swastika souvenir when they stopped in front of the Reich Chancellery to take photos. As they stood there Hitler again appeared with a contingent of armed guards and went inside. After the building’s guards had goose-stepped past, Louis made a run for the building, climbed a flag pole and grabbed a Nazi banner. The guards saw Zamperini as he attempted to make his escape, shouted “halt” and started firing. Louie wisely stopped and was handcuffed. However, upon seeing his Olympic uniform and hearing that he had wanted the swastika as a souvenir, the German commandant of the building let “Lucky Louie” keep the banner.

It was in the Pacific Theater where Louis Zamperini made his name as a war hero. Anticipating America’s entry into the war, he enlisted in the army in September 1941. He went to Officers Candidate and bombardier school in Midland, Texas. In October 1942 he was assigned as an Army Air Corps second lieutenant to Hickam Field in Honolulu with the B24 bombing unit of the Forty-second Squadron. His first raid took place on Christmas Eve, 1942, the target was Japanese-occupied Wake Island.

On May 26, 1943, in an aircraft dubbed the Green Hornet, which Zamperini noted “couldn’t fly straight,” he and his fellow crew members crash landed in the Pacific. His harrowing 47 days on the high seas, including near starvation (his weight dropped to 67 pounds), thirst, encounters with sharks, killing and eating raw sea birds, and the death at sea of a fellow crew member, are graphically recorded in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. That story will also be retold in a movie directed by Angelina Jolie which is to be released in December.

Zamperini and another crewmember, Second Lieutenant Russell Phillips, were captured by the Japanese and taken first to the island of Kwajalein and then to mainland Japan as POWs. His parents received a letter from President Franklin Roosevelt informing them that their son had “died in the service of his country” and that “he stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live.” His mother, however, never gave up hope that he was alive.

Louis Zamperini’s treatment as a brutalized prisoner of war continues to have relevance today because of the ongoing debate in Asia over Japan’s war crimes. Article 2 of the 1929 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War reads: “They must at all times be humanly treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against them are prohibited.” The death rates of American POWs held by Nazi Germany and Japan during the Second World War provide a stark contrast. Statistics indicate that only 1,121 of 93,941 U.S. POWs died in Nazi internment camps (a rate of about 1.1 percent) while 13,851 of 36,260 POWs died while in Imperial Japanese custody (a rate of 38.2 percent.) This is evidence not only of abuse and brutality but of clear violations of the Geneva Convention by Imperial Japanese authorities.

Zamperini became aware of these violations from his first days of captivity on Kwajalein. A native islander, who worked for the Japanese, approached him in his cell because of his Olympic notoriety. This person informed him that the nine U.S. Marines who had left messages scrawled in Zamperini’s cell had been summarily executed, “decapitated with a samurai sword.” Zamperini described how his guards taunted him and his crewmate: “they jabbed us with sticks, spit on us, tossed hot tea in our faces. Sometimes they made us sing and dance—as if we could—for their amusement.” He also observed Comfort Women, the current focus of so much historic controversy, while imprisoned on Kwajalein. In his memoirs, he recorded: “on the way I passed two somber young girls, very out of place in a combat zone. They shuffled and stared at the ground.”

Later, on the prison ship transporting him to mainland Japan, guards examined Zamperini’s wallet. There they discovered a Stars and Stripes newspaper clipping regarding his Olympic background and his participation in the Wake Island raid. They were so angered that they broke his nose. He was transferred to a series of POW camps where he spent the next two years as a slave laborer. “Brutal beatings, with fist or club, were the daily rule,” he recorded.

Zamperini made a mental note of guards and officials who were especially brutal and sadistic in their treatment of the POWs. At Camp Ofuna, in the foothills near Yokohama [Kamakura], there was a medic named Kitamura, nicknamed “the Quack,” who sadistically beat POW Marine Bill Harris almost to death for concealing a map of Allied military advances. There was James Sasaki, who had attended USC with Louis Zamperini, undercover as a Japanese spy, and then returned to Japan to become the head interrogator for the prison camp system. Above all, there was Sergeant Matsuhiro Watanabe, who was assigned to Camp Omori, where Louis was transferred, and was nicknamed “the Bird.” Zamperini described him as “deranged, brutal beyond belief.” He took a personal dislike to “Lucky Louie” and tormented him both verbally and with great physical brutality.

“The Bird” disappeared near the war’s end and hid in the mountains of Japan for seven or eight years, until a general amnesty, to escape trial as a war criminal (Watanabe had been classified as a class-A war criminal, number 23 of the top 40 most wanted men, for his crimes against humanity.) When Louis returned to Japan in1998 to carry the torch for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, near the site of his final internment camp, he asked to meet with Watanabe, who had been located by journalists. Louis wanted closure and reconciliation but “the Bird,” in a final act of degradation, refused to meet with him. (Decades earlier, after hearing Reverend Billy Graham preach, Louie had met some of his other captors in Japan and had forgiven them all.)

At that last internment facility, Camp 4-B [Naoestu], near Nagano, where Louis Zamperini would return over a half century later, Louis and his fellow POWs were forced to engage in slave labor for Japanese corporations: “every day, gangs marched to the nearby steel mill, train yard and port. Although we had shoes, most of us walked the two miles to work barefoot in the March snow and ice, our feet wrapped in rags, because the Bird had a rule: whoever had dirty shoes got beaten and had to lick them clean.”

Two of the companies for which Louie and his fellow prisoners were forced to labor, Shinetsu Chemical and Nippon Stainless [NSSC], continue to exist today. A number of these corporations which used slave labor also continue to do business in the United States. As former POW Edward Jackfert pointed out in a recent article in the National Interest, Sumitomo, Kawasaki, and Mitsui, all of which used POW slave labor in their wartime factories, have sold rail cars which run on Virginia’s VRE rail line. Yet, unlike German corporations, which used slave labor, these corporations have never offered an apology to our old soldiers who are slowly fading away.

In 2000, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to a “multi-million pound compensation package” for former British prisoners of war in Japan in recognition of their “appalling” experiences—ex gratia payments from the UK government. As a result of Blair’s example, legislation was introduced in Congress which instead sought direct compensation for America’s POWs from Japanese corporations rather than from the U.S. taxpayer—the “Justice for the U.S. POWs Act of 2001”—with bipartisan sponsorship from two legislators from Louis Zamperini’s home state of California, Dana Rohrabacher and Mike Honda.

The bill was designed “to preserve certain actions in Federal court brought by members of the United States Armed Forces held as prisoners of war by Japan during World War II against Japanese nationals seeking compensation for mistreatment or failure to pay wages in connection with labor performed in Japan to the benefit of the Japanese nationals.” The legal bureau of the State Department, however, supported the Japanese government’s position that all such claims were settled by the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, so the proposed legislation got nowhere. There has thus been no formal U.S. recognition of the debt owed our POW slave laborers.

Former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, did take an important step in offering his government’s first official apology in 2009 to survivors of the Bataan Death March at their organization’s final national convention in San Antonio, Texas. Ambassador Fujisaki stated, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News, "As former prime ministers of Japan have repeatedly stated: The Japanese people should bear in mind that we must look into the past to learn from the lessons of history. We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of war, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula, in Corregidor Island in the Philippines and other places.” [NB: No official  text of this speech has ever been issued. The exact apology words used in Japanese are unknown.]

Perhaps the passing of the “Unbroken” Louis Zamperini will be an occasion for Japanese corporations involved in slave labor to join in extending their apologies to the dwindling number of America’s World War II POW veterans. Is saying sorry so hard? “Lucky Louie” certainly wouldn’t think so.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

National PTSD Awareness Day - June 27th


Starting in 2010, Congress named June 27th PTSD Awareness Day (S. Res. 455). Since then, the month of June has been devoted to raising PTSD awareness. In studies comparing the experiences of returning POWs from various conflicts, it has been found that the POWs of Japan have suffered the most severe and most lasting effects of PSTD of any POW group. These findings indicate that PTSD has been a persistent, normative, and primary consequence of exposure to the severe trauma endured by the POWs of Japan.

Among the number of events around the USA focusing on PTSD on the 27th, is one sponsored by The Library of Congress Veterans History Project at Noon on the causes, effects and alternative treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among military veterans with Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Karen Lynn Fears; Richard Tedeschi, professor, licensed psychologist and author who specializes in bereavement and trauma; Gala True, core investigator at Philadelphia Veterans Affairs and research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; and David "Kelly" Williams, retired Navy Hospital corpsman and the Veterans Employment Program manager for the HHS Department. (click the link for more information)

National Center for PTSD homepageIn 1989, the National Center for PTSD was established by the Veterans Administration for research and education on the prevention, understanding, and treatment of PTSD. The Center has developed The PTSD Coach smartphone application (app), launched in April 2011 by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD), has already helped more than 5,000 users connect with important mental health information and resources.

On Friday, June 20th, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies released a report on the Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Military and Veteran Populations: Final Assessment.  As the New York Times editorializes in The Heavy Burden of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, "What is needed, the institute’s report says, is a better integrated approach and the collection of data to document which practices and treatments work best and how patients progress over the years. Those who have suffered mental trauma on the battlefield deserve the best care the nation can provide."


There were 14 POW camps on Japan's colony of Formosa. Each was more hellacious than the next. In the video above, a Canadian researcher who edits Never Forgotten, a website on Japan's POW camps on Taiwan, tries to describe the PTSD experiences of the men he has interviewed. As he notes, there was no word, nor in-depth understanding at the time of traumas caused by Japan's brutal incarceration and work-to-the-death labor of the POWs.

The National Center for PTSD also maintains the easy to use Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress (PILOTS) Database that is an electronic index to the worldwide literature on PTSD and other mental health consequences of exposure to traumatic events.

Below are three papers accessed from the database that are of immediate interest to those interested in the POWs of Japan experience.

Follow-up studies of World War II and Korean War Prisoners: II. Morbidity, disability, and maladjustment (1976)
Sequelae of the POW experience are both somatic and psychiatric, and are of greatest extent and severity among Pacific World War II POW's.
Effects of paternal exposure to prolonged stress on the mental health of the spouse and children: families of Canadian Army survivors of the Japanese World War II camps (1976)
If a member of a survivor's family is affected it is likely to be the oldest child, provided it is a female. She will probably manifest depressive affects and other symptoms. 
Posttraumatic stress disorder in a community group of former prisoners of war: a normative response to severe trauma (1997)
The most severely traumatized group (POWs held by the Japanese) had PTSD lifetime rates of 84% and current rates of 59%.

Monday, June 09, 2014

USS Houston revisited

On June 6, the 7th Fleet announced that the Navy would Dive on the Wreck of USS Houston (CA 30) during CARAT Indonesia.

SINGAPORE (NNS) -- In a training evolution to be conducted as part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014 exercise series, U.S. Navy divers, assisted by personnel from the Indonesian navy, will survey the World War II wreck of the cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) in June.

The purpose of the mission is to determine the vessel's current condition and provide real-world training to rescue and salvage divers in maneuvering around a sunken ship. Divers from both navies will also share best practices and diving techniques during a series of training evolutions on board the rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50).

Houston was sunk during the World War II Battle of Sunda Strait Feb. 28, 1942 with the loss of more than seven hundred souls. The ship remains sovereign property of the U.S. under customary international law, and is a popular dive site. Houston is located off the west coast of Java, Indonesia, one of nine partner nations participating in CARAT 2014.

Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit divers embarked in Safeguard will inspect the wreck to assess whether the ship has fallen prey to illicit salvage. They will be aided by Dr. Alexis Catsambis, an underwater archaeologist from the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) who will provide operations planning support in order for the mission to effectively document the state of preservation of Houston. Documentation methods will include personal inspection by divers, as well as the planned use of sonar sensing systems and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

Once the mission is complete, Catsambis and NHHC's Underwater Archaeology Branch will compile the expedition's findings into a formal report on the condition of the ship which will be released when complete.

"Working with our Indonesian navy partners, CARAT 2014 offers an excellent opportunity to conduct this diving exchange as part of our shared training goals, while also allowing us to determine the condition of a ship that is an important part of the U.S. Navy's heritage in this region," said Rear Adm. Cindy Thebaud, commander, Task Force 73 and commander, Naval Forces CARAT.

The Department of the Navy's sunken ship and aircraft wrecks represent a collection of more than 17,000 fragile, non-renewable cultural resources distributed worldwide. They often serve as war graves, safeguard state secrets, carry environmental and safety hazards such as oil and ordnance, and hold great historical value. While it is not feasible to conduct similar surveys of all sunken military craft, Navy leadership desires to ensure the final resting place of those who made the ultimate sacrifice when the ship went down remains in a respected and solemn condition.

In its 20th year, CARAT, which continues through late 2014, is a bilateral exercise series designed to address shared maritime security priorities and concerns, strengthen navy-to-navy relationships and enhance interoperability among participating forces. It will focus on combined air, surface and anti-submarine operations at sea, maritime domain awareness, amphibious landing events and humanitarian assistance, disaster response scenarios. Additional skill areas exercised during CARAT include riverine operations, explosive ordnance disposal, combat construction, visit, board, search, and seizure, diving and salvage, search and rescue, military medicine and military law.

The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through the nation's history, and supports the Fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services.

NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.

To view photos of historic artifacts in the NHHC collection, check out the command's Flickr page

For more information on Naval History and Heritage Command .

For more news from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet

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


BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

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.