Friday, April 22, 2016

Mr. President a visit to Hiroshima cannot be outside the context of the Pacific War

Secretary of State Kerry bows at Hiroshima, April 11, 2016
On April 19, 2016, Lester Tenney, Past National Commander, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor wrote President Barack Obama the following letter:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We met at your annual Veterans’ Day breakfast last year. I was the former POW of Japan who gave you my book describing how I survived the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March, a “hell ship” to Japan, and slave labor in a Mitsui coal mine.

Whereas I encourage a visit to Hiroshima, I do object to any visit that does not first acknowledge the American and Allied forces that fought and died for freedom in the Pacific. To focus solely on the effects of a nuclear weapon removes all responsibility from Imperial Japan for starting the war and conducting it with gross inhumanity.

American POWs of Japan are particularly sensitive to being left behind and ignored when presidents pursue big policies. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill’s “Europe First” policy abandoned us to fight without resupply or reinforcement on the Philippines at the start of World War II. Isolated, sick, and without ammunition, food, or medicine, we had no choice but to be surrendered and become prisoners of Japan for over three years

Upon liberation most of us were forced to sign gag orders not to discuss the horrors of our imprisonment. The policy was to pacify Japan by erasing its history of atrocities. At home, the VA refused to give us full disability and ignored or misunderstood the aftereffects of vitamin deficiency, tropic disease, and trauma. It took two acts of Congress before we received any compensation and only at a rate of $1.50/day for lost meals.

In 1995, we sued the Japanese companies that used us as slaves. We were thwarted in court by the U.S. State Department siding with the Japanese. The Peace Treaty with Japan, written when Japan was believed destitute, was designed to preclude further war claims. The young lawyer in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser who worked on the brief was even given an award for his successful efforts against us veterans.

In Congress, the U.S. Defense Department, State Department, and a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by Japanese companies and government joined to stop legislation that would allow the POWs to sue Japanese companies or to have the U.S. government provide ex gratia compensation as all other Allied governments and Norway had to their POWs of Japan.

Efforts to compel Japanese companies to apologize and to give atonement payments for their brutal slave labor have produced very little. Among the nearly 60 well-known companies such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Kawasaki, and Nippon Sharyo, only Mitsubishi Materials Company, that used POWs in four of its mines during the War, has come forward to apologize. Last year they held a ceremony in Los Angeles and donated $50,000 to a museum. No other company has followed.

Yes, over the past decade the Japanese government has worked to make amends to the American POWs. They offered an official apology in 2009. With your urging, they established in 2010 a reconciliation program for former POWs to visit Japan. However, the help of your Administration seems to have stopped there.

Port of Moji, Kyushu

Mr. President, I do not want you to add to the sorry tale of abandonment of the American POWs of Japan. I urge you to ensure that the history of the war in the Pacific is fully remembered and memorialized. Most of all I want you to understand that Hiroshima does not and cannot exist outside the context of the Asia Pacific War and all its dead.

Thus, I urge you to include in your visit to Japan with a visit to the American section of the Commonwealth Cemetery in Tokyo. Then you should go to the port of Moji on Kyushu to break ground for a memorial to the American and Allied POWs carried to Japan aboard “hell ships.” At Hiroshima, please include a stop at the memorial plaque to the 12 POWs killed near the hypocenter.

I also urge you Mr. President to ask Prime Minister Shinzo Abe two things: 1) to make permanent the reconciliation visitation program so that descendants and historians can be included and expand it into a joint educational program; and 2) to urge those companies that used POW slave labor to emulate their government’s honorable gesture of acknowledging their inhumane treatment of American POWs and apologizing for it.

At 95, I have witnessed the worst and the best of Japan. What I suggest can help you advance our important relationship with Japan by bringing an honorable closure and healing to its darkest history.

I wish you a very successful and fruitful trip to Japan.

Sincerely yours,

Lester Tenney

Past National Commander, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor

Friday, April 15, 2016

Veterans urge Obama to halt visit to Hiroshima

Ben Steele of Montana at Liberation
U.S. Veterans Ask President

To Halt Hiroshima Visit Planning

Demand a Memorial for POWs in Japan


Makanda, Illinois, April 15, 2016/American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society/ -- Survivors of wartime Japan’s death camps and slave labor call on President Barack Obama to halt planning a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial until he breaks ground in Japan for a memorial to American and Allied POWs.

The leading American veterans’ organization for former prisoners of war of Imperial Japan, their families, and historians, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS), sent a letter to the President on April 14th asking him to forego a trip to Hiroshima until he “can first make an equally poignant memorialization of the Americans who perished in Japan.”

Specifically, they want the President to “break ground for a memorial to the American and Allied POWs at their port of entry and slavery into Japan, the dock at Moji on Kyushu.”

For a President’s visit to Hiroshima to be successful, they advise “it must include the acknowledgement of all the victims of the war in the Asia Pacific. Hiroshima symbolizes not only the destructiveness of mankind, but also what lengths we may need to go to end suffering and tyranny.”

The ADBC-MS is alarmed that “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration have been working since taking office to replace the established history of Japan’s abuses during the war with a denier’s view.” As a result, they believe the President’s “visit will not merely be unreciprocated; it will sanction the Abe Administration’s anti-historical efforts and abrogate your mission, which is to remind us all what we are capable of both good and bad.”

It is estimated that over 300,000 American and Allied POWs and civilian internees were held in inhumane conditions by Imperial Japan. Nearly half died in squalid POW camps, aboard fetid “hell ships,” or as slave laborers for Japanese corporations. Over 14,000 died on the “hell ships” to Japan. And more than 30, 000 Filipino soldiers with the U.S. Forces in the Far East died as POWs.

The letter concludes “War is about how it is remembered. We hope that you will respect the interests and memory of America’s Pacific War veterans.”

For more details, contact the ADBC-MS President, Ms. Jan Thompson.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Kerry's Premature Visit to Hiroshima

Saturday, April 9 was the 74th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan and the beginning of the Bataan Death March. The failure of the US Secretary of State to acknowledge all the victims of the Pacific War and why President Harry Truman felt it was necessary to use the destructive power of a new weapon on Japan has prompted many to question the wisdom of the President following with a visit as this former POW writes.

WEEKLY STANDARD, APR 11, 2016 | By LESTER TENNEY

By Lester Tenney, PhD, 95, is a survivor of the Bataan Death March and was a tank commander in the 192nd Tank Battalion on Bataan

John Kerry has become the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park, ground zero to the first atomic bomb. He recognized the victims of World War II, saying he was there in part to "revisit the past." As part of that history, a prisoner of war of Imperial Japan, I hope that Secretary Kerry also remembered why there was a Hiroshima and a Nagasaki, which I witnessed.

Secretary Kerry stood in Hiroshima on the anniversary of what was my second day of the Bataan Death March. After four months of brutal tank warfare in the Bataan Peninsula of the Philippines, on April 9, 1942, I had been surrendered by my commanding officers as we had run out of ammunition, food, and medicine.

Nearly 80,000 American, Filipino, and European volunteer troops, exhausted, sick, and hungry, were forced to march in the tropical sun on unpaved roads out of Bataan. Every moment was one of gripping fear. We did not know where we were going or if we would arrive alive. Our guards screamed commands we did not understand. They beat us with rifle butts and sand-filled bamboo sticks until we fell.

The first American I saw killed directly by the Japanese was on the second day of the Death March. He had fallen to the ground and tried to explain that he was too sick to continue. The guards responded by bayoneting and shooting him in the chest. A lieutenant also fell of exhaustion and was shot, but his body was left in the middle of the road for a truck convoy to crush. But the worst that day was watching my first American beheaded—you convulse as you throw up with your stomach muscles tightening so that you think you will never again breathe. And then you shake and shake and shake.

Deniers in Japan have been revising the Bataan history for some time. In December 2005, a popular Japanese magazine, Bungei Shunju, reported that the Bataan Death March route was mischaracterized. A female journalist had walked the 65-mile Bataan Death March trail in October and found the now-paved road undemanding. She had water, a snack, and a hat. She did not have dysentery, malaria, battle wounds, or a bayonet at her neck. She was not denied water, food, or rest. Nor did she witness random deaths. She was not a prisoner of war.

In 2010, another popular magazine, Shukan Shincho, again questioned my memory of the Death March and the abuse I received as a POW. The author suggested that the March never happened and that I made up a "collection of torture scenes from Hollywood movies."

A similar article in 2012, in the conservative monthly, Seiron, accused me of willfully killing civilians in the Philippines and exaggerating the horrors of the Bataan Death March. Both articles referred to my being Jewish as the cause of my indifference and supposed overstatements, as if to say I am not a typical American.

But the bigger problem of misperception is maybe outside Japan, where the POW experience is ignored. Last year, UNESCO designated Mitsui's Miike Coal mine, barely 35 miles from Nagasaki, as a World Industrial Heritage site. This is the dangerous mine where 1,700 POWs and I were slave laborers. Nothing at the site mentions us, and no U.S., European or Australian government official has objected.

While the Bataan Death March is being dismissed in Japan, it is being misremembered in the U.S. If recognized at all, it is believed to have been just another long slog. In an interview with Politico, President Obama compared his first election campaign to the Bataan Death March.

I am a witness. Who will be my witness when I am gone? At 95, I can't have much longer. It is not enough to silently remember the victims of the Pacific War. An active and rigorous campaign of education and reflection is necessary. It is premature to visit Hiroshima's ground zero before first ensuring that the full history of World War II is preserved.

If President Obama follows his Secretary of State with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in May, I suggest he also visit the Port of Moji. The "hell ships" carrying the sick and dying survivors of the Bataan Death March and other lost battles unloaded their "cargo" at this port. It would be fitting for the president of the United States and the prime minister of Japan to break ground with a memorial at the port to the American and Allied POWs. And the president should insist that Japan's UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites, where so many POWs toiled and died after arriving at Moji, have this history included in the pubic descriptions.

The final Japanese offensive on Bataan had started on April 3: Good Friday for the Americans and Filipinos. Behind Japanese lines, it was the anniversary of their first Emperor Jimmu's death. For both sides it was a day of death, but one that might point to a path toward redemption.

Looking back 74 years, I understand that it is what we share that matters most. On the second day of the Bataan Death March, I happened to stare at a tin of fish being eaten by a young Japanese soldier sitting beside the road. We had not yet been allowed food or water. He stared back. Then, without hesitation, he handed me the opened can.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

April 9 - Remember Bataan

Presidential Proclamation -- National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, 2016

NATIONAL FORMER PRISONER OF WAR RECOGNITION DAY, 2016
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION


Under the flag of the United States, generations of women and men, united in a common cause greater than themselves, have served to defend the ideals that bind us together as a Nation and that preserve our country as a beacon of hope and freedom around the world. On National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, we salute the selfless service members throughout our history who gave of their own liberty to ensure ours, and we renew our commitment to remaining a Nation worthy of their extraordinary sacrifices.

In wars and engagements since America's founding, brave patriots have experienced indescribable suffering as prisoners of war. Often physically and mentally tortured, starved, and put through the worst most of us could imagine, these heroes are owed a debt we can never fully repay, and their families -- who exhibited tremendous fortitude in the face of grueling uncertainty -- are worthy of our profound gratitude. The values of honor, courage, and selflessness that drive our Armed Forces are particularly acute in those who have been taken as prisoners of war, sustaining them through days, weeks, and sometimes years of profound hardship endured for the sake of securing the blessings of liberty for all.

America's former prisoners of war -- and all who don our uniform to keep us safe -- have helped make our Nation the strongest and most prosperous in the history of the world. Our eternal obligation is to care for them and uphold our everlasting promise to never leave our men and women on the battlefield behind. Let us reaffirm our adherence to these ideals and honor our former prisoners of war by paying them the gratitude and respect they deserve.

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, 2016, 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 sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

A quid pro quo for Hiroshima

1930s Postcard of Moji
click to purchase
On March 3rd, Ms. Jan Thompson, President, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society submitted a Statement for the Record to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Joint Hearing To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations.

Her testimony AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF JAPAN: PROTECTING THE MEMORY OF WORLD WAR II VETERANS OF THE PACIFIC emphasized that reconciliation with Japan continues and needs to be further encouraged. It is far from complete.

In listing what still needs to be done, she touched on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's upcoming visit to the memorial for the atomic bombing victims at Hiroshima. Such a visit appears detached from the reality of what little Japan has done to acknowledge its own culpability for the war. She thus suggests: 
that if President Obama or his successor were to visit Hiroshima, the trip would be inappropriate without first the memorialization of POWs at the Port of Moji, where most of the “hell ships” docked and unloaded their sick and dying “human cargo,” and a remembrance for the POWs at the UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites where so many toiled and died.
Full text of the statement below

Chairmen Isakson and Miller, Ranking Members Blumenthal and Brown, 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 as well as scholars, researchers, and archivists. Our goal is to preserve the history of the American POW experience in the Pacific and to communicate its enduring spirit and inspiration to future generations.

Today, I would like to review the history of the American POWs of Japan, describe some of the incredible progress that we have made, and show what still needs to be done.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of America’s entry into World War II. It began in Asia.

As Japanese bombs rained down on Peal Harbor on December 7, 1941, so they also did on the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Howland Island, Midway, Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Shanghai. On December 8th nearly 300 American Marines, sailors, and diplomats stationed in China became the first American POWs of Japan.

By the beginning of 1942, there were more than 2,000 American POWs. In March 1942, over 900 sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines were captured in Java—survivors of the sinking of the USS Houston CA-30, a Texas-based U.S. Army Field Artillery battalion, and a U.S. Army Air Corps squadron. On April 9, 1942, another 10,000 Americans became POWs with the surrender of the Bataan Peninsular in the Philippines. And in early May 1942, over 11,500 Americans were surrendered on Corregidor, a fortress island in Manila harbor, and in the Southern Philippine Islands. The surrender of American and Filipino forces on the Philippines Islands was the largest surrender in United States military history. Over 26,000 Americans were ultimately held as POWs of Imperial Japan. Nearly 11,000 died in squalid POW camps, aboard fetid “hell ships”, or as slave laborers. Tragically, only 15,000 returned home to their families.

To remember all our veterans
Last year, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the leaders of both Japan and the United States recognized the American POWs and their contribution to the steady relationship between two countries. In his September 2nd VJ day statement, U.S. President Barak Obama remembered “those who endured unimaginable suffering as prisoners of war.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his war anniversary statement on August 14th recognized “the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military.”

Yet, there was no recognition from the U.S. Congress. The ADBC-MS was dismayed in 2012 when none of the 70th anniversaries of historic battles at the beginning of World War II were officially recognized. Surprisingly, December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy,” has not been commemorated with a Congressional resolution for many years. Nor have the April 9, 1942, Fall of Bataan and the start of the infamous Bataan Death March been remembered as in past Congresses. And few in Congress note the annual Prisoner of War Remembrance Day in April or the National POW/MIA Recognition Day in September.

We hope that future Congresses will correct this oversight and not forget our POW veterans. We hope the events that started American involvement in World War II will be remembered with resolutions memorializing the simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines Islands. We would like to see the Battle of Wake Island commemorated. For nearly two weeks in December 1942, 400 Marines and 1,500 unarmed civilians held off an invading Japanese armada—the defense of Wake is still taught in our military academies as an example of brilliant tactics, heroic command, and tenacious effort. We hope too that the 98 Americans, who the Japanese kept on Wake as POW slave laborers, only to massacre them on October 7, 1943, before American forces liberated the island, will be memorialized.

Meet the special needs of all veterans
We applaud the efforts of all the veterans’ service organizations to fight for adequate medical care and disability benefits. We support the DAV’s efforts to pass S. 425, the Veterans Homeless Programs, Caregiver Services and Other Improvements Act of 2015, which contains provisions to make veterans of all eras eligible for the VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver Support program. Surviving POWs of Japan know well that their caregivers—their families—were instrumental in their reintegration into their communities and their ability to achieve the highest levels of recovery and quality of life. Family caregivers are critical members of every veteran’s health care.

The incidence and intensity of post-traumatic stress for American POWs of Japan is believed to be the greatest of any World War II veteran and possibly of any American war. These veterans had to survive the sordid POW camps, unimaginable and capricious torture, “hell ships” to Japan or its colonies, and 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 our fellow veterans service organizations 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.

Progress Toward Remembrance, Reconciliation, and Preservation
An important aspect of showing respect and acceptance to returning service men and women is to ensure that they are not forgotten. This is the mission of the ADBC-MS. To this end, we have had a number of significant achievements.

In 2009, the Government of Japan, through its then-Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro FUJISAKI, and again in 2010, through its then-Foreign Minister Katsuya OKADA, officially apologized to the American POWs of Japan. These Cabinet-approved apologies, first established as a Cabinet Decision on February 6, 2009, were unprecedented. Never before had the Japanese Government apologized for a specific war crime nor had it done so directly to the victims.

The Japanese Government further initiated the “Japan/POW Friendship Program” that sponsors trips for American former POWs to visit Japan and return to the places of their imprisonment and slave labor. Thus far, there have been seven trips, one each in the fall of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and two in 2015. In all, 43 former POWs, all in their late-80s or 90s, have been able to travel to Japan along with three widows and two descendants.

On July 19, 2015, the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation (MMC) became the first Japanese company to officially apologize to those American POWs who were used as slave laborers to maintain war production. The historic apology was to those who were forced to work in the mines operated by Mitsubishi Mining, Inc., the predecessor company of MMC. This apology was followed by a $50,000 one-time donation to the National American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor (ADBC) Museum, Education & Research Center in Wellsburg, West Virginia.

Success should encourage more action
The benefits of these long-awaited acts of contrition have been immeasurable for former POWs and their families. The visitation Program is a great success. It has given the participating veterans a peace of mind and strengthened the bonds between our two countries. A former POW who was forced to be a miner in a dangerous, Mitsubishi copper mine declared it “a glorious day” when he accepted the company’s apology.

But we are concerned about the future. There is no formal agreement between the U.S. and Japan to continue the visitation program and Japan’s Foreign Ministry must request annually a line-item budget for it. One cannot help but get the impression that some in Japan count on time and the POWs advancing years to end the program. We view this as shortsighted.

The Program should not end with the 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. 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. The original understanding was that the former POWs, their widows and their descendants would be invited to participate. Widows, children, and other descendants have all been profoundly affected by the POW experience of their relatives, and they too should be eligible for future programs.

We want this program to include funds to create visual reminders of history through educational groups and monuments. We want national memorials to the POWs who slaved and died on Japanese soil and territories as well as aboard the “hell ships.” We want to see a Japanese government-funded memorial at the Port of Moji, where most of the “hell ships” delivered their sick, dying, and dead human cargo to the Japanese mainland.

Concerns with moving backwards
To our dismay, there appears to be backtracking in Japan regarding the American POWs history. It was not until last month that the 2014 biographical film Unbroken about American Olympian and aviator Louis Zamperini’s ordeal as a POW was shown in Japan. It was preceded by a venomous campaign of misinformation and slander denouncing the scenes of abuse and torture and declaring them impossible. In contrast, surviving POWs believed the film to not show the full depravity and squalor of their imprisonment.

We are concerned by last year’s inscription of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In five of the eight new World Heritage areas there were 26 POW camps that provided slave labor to Japan’s industrial giants including, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Aso Group, Ube Industries, Tokai Carbon, Nippon Coke & Engineering, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Furukawa Company Group and Denka. Californian Lester Tenney, the American POW of Japan who was honored at the President’s Veterans Day Breakfast last year, was a slave labor at one of the new UNESCO sites, the Miike Coal Mine.

Japan stated on July 4, 2015, that it “is prepared to take measures that allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others [emphasis added] who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.” However, we do not know how the Japanese government interprets “others” and U.S. government officials have not asked. Frankly, we have not seen any effort toward including the history of the 13,000 Allied and American POWs held at the UNESCO sites.

Ironically, a prefectural government recently reported plans to submit records from a POW camp to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register as a token of bilateral friendship. The Bando Camp in Tokushima Prefecture, however, was where German soldiers were treated humanely during World War I. It stands as a stark contrast to all Japan’s POW camps during WWII. Not far from the remains of Bando is the World War II Zentsuji POW camp that held Allied officers and enlisted men from Guam and Wake, including five U.S. Navy nurses and an American woman with a newborn.

What we ask Congress
We ask Congress to encourage the Government of Japan to hold to its promises and responsibilities by preserving, expanding, and enhancing its reconciliation program toward its American former prisoners. We want to see the trips to Japan continued and extended to include widows and descendants. We want Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicize the program, its participants, and its achievements.

We ask Congress to have Japan turn its POW visitation program into a permanent Future Fund supported by Japanese government and industry for research, documentation, reconciliation, and people-to-people exchanges that are not subject to the Japanese government’s yearly budget review. This Future Fund would spearhead the creation of visual reminders of Imperial Japan’s war history through museums and monuments. These would include national memorials to and public exhibitions about the POWs who slaved and died on Japanese soil and territories as well as aboard the “hell ships.”

We ask Congress to encourage the U.S. State Department to continue to vigorously represent the interests of the veterans’ community. It is only the U.S. government that can persuade Japan to continue the visitation program, to create a Future Fund, and to ensure that the stewards of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution take seriously the UNESCO mandate to produce meaningful educational materials at the Heritage sites that will include the history of forced and slave labor during World War II.

In April, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to become the most senior American official to visit the memorial for the atomic bombing victims at Hiroshima. It is rumored that this will prepare the way for President Barack Obama’s journey to Hiroshima in May. We suggest that if President Obama or his successor were to visit Hiroshima, the trip would be inappropriate without first the memorialization of POWs at the Port of Moji, where most of the “hell ships” docked and unloaded their sick and dying “human cargo,” and a remembrance for the POWs at the UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites where so many toiled and died.

High price of freedom
The American POWs of Japan and their families paid a high price for the freedoms we cherish. In return for their sacrifices and service they ask that their government, even after 70 years, keep its moral obligation 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, that our allies respect them, and that their American history be preserved accurately.

The ordeal of the American POWs of Japan is not just another facet of war history. Nor is it simply another saga of WWII suffering. It is a history of resilience, survival, and the human spirit, good and bad. And it has become an example of a path toward mutual understanding and justice between Japan and its former victims.

We ask Congress for support and to help our veterans in their unique quest for justice and remembrance.

In the United States this history is being forgotten, and in Japan it is being revised. We cannot let this happen, on either side of the Pacific.

Thank you for this opportunity to address your committees.

Ms. Jan Thompson
President
American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society
Daughter of PhM2c Robert E. Thompson USN, Bilibid, Fukuoka 3B, & Mukden, POW# 2011

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Please God, set us free

Church of England Service in the courtyard of Changi Gaol
Christmas Wishes

Former POW returns to Japan at country's request

Omori POW Camp on Aug. 29, 1945Scott Downing, at right
Amarillo Globe News story by Mark Beilue, December 19, 2015 [corrections by APP]

Stu Downing was walking to one of the many events the Japanese government had for his father, Scott Downing, and four other prisoners of war from World War II when he was handed an envelope. It was a letter signed by four Japanese high school girls.

“Dear Mr. Scott Dawning,

Good evening, everyone. Thank you for coming to Japan. We are students of Toin Gauken High School in Yokohama.

I’m so glad to participate in this meeting, but I am a little nervous too. We examined cruelty by Japanese this summer.

We found through our study what prisoners of war (POW) had to go through during the war. We pray from the bottom of my heart that your comrades’ soul may rest in peace. We wonder how you feel about your experience now. We were shocked to find out how little we knew about the past. We are now aware of what kind of damage ignorance can cause...”


This was Scott Downing’s fifth trip to Japan. The first was awful — three months as a beaten and abused prisoner of war 70 years ago. The second was somewhat redemptive — testifying at a war crimes trial of Japanese military officers two years later.

The third and fourth were sightseeing trips — in 1984 with wife Bitsy and in 1996 with Stu. This one, from Dec. 5 to 14, was one of healing.

“I feel great about the people,” said Downing, 96.

“They’re not bad people. It’s the soldiers I didn’t like.”

The trip was at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan. It was in conjunction with the U.S. State Department and the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) Memorial Society.

There were four other former American POWs on the trip, which the Japanese government periodically [since 2010, this is the 7th] hosts for American prisoners. The goodwill trips are presented as one of reconciliation.

“It’s to heal any old wounds,” Stu said. “We’d like to think that time heals those wounds. I think all these men, including my dad, have forgiven, but they haven’t forgotten.”

“Seventy years,” said Scott, “is a long time.”

Shot down  over Japan
Indeed, 70 years ago, First Lt. Downing, 26, was an experienced bombardier on a B-29. He was part of an 11-man crew on its 20th mission from the Tinian Islands to Japan.

This one was May 25, 1945. The objective was an industrial complex four miles southeast of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. A Japanese Zero fired on the B-29, setting fire to the right engine.

The crew of 11 tried to bail out. Three could not get out of plane. Downing did, landing 15 miles southeast of Tokyo. Villagers tied him to a tree for two hours, and beat him with sticks, shovels and rakes until the military arrived.

Thus began three months of imprisonment. He was first at the Kempeitai prison in Tokyo, home of the secret police where 19 prisoners were crammed into 8-by-12-foot horse stalls. If they talked to each other, they were beaten.

In fact, one of the former POWs on the trip, Donald Ryan of Florida, was among the 19 in the same stall as Downing. They didn’t remember each other because no communication was allowed.

They were given a rice ball the size of a golf ball three times a day and a cup of water. In July, they went three days without water.

Downing was interrogated by Japanese officers, blindfolded and threatened. He was beaten with a bamboo pole, threatened with decapitation with a sword at his neck, and had an officer repeatedly click a rifle bolt at his head.

Atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9 had B-29 pilots at other camps beheaded. Downing and others were set for execution when it was announced Japan surrendered Aug. 15.

Downing and others were take to Omori prison camp on Tokyo Bay, where conditions were only slightly better. Two weeks later, on Aug. 29, a U.S. minesweeper and a cruiser came into the bay to load up the anxious prisoners.

Returning to the B-29 crash site
On this trip 70 years later, Downing, who became a building contractor in Canyon and Amarillo after the war, visited the sites of the camps and the crash site where three crewmen died. Nothing clicked. So much has changed since 1945.

Downing did meet Hideo Onuki, 83, who as a 13-year-old boy witnessed the crash of the B-29.

“When I saw the crash, I thought, ‘Serves you right,’” Onuki told The Associated Press. “But now I feel that it was good for Downing to survive. I never thought I would actually get to meet him.”

The former POWs were asked questions by a Christian college class, and met for 1½ hours with Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan and daughter of the former president. [And met with Japan's Foreign Minister Kishida.]

“She was absolutely great with all the men,” Stu said.

The contingent was feted by the Japanese government at almost every turn with dinners and events. Only once did it turn awkward when an aide to the foreign minister suggested it was wrong for the U.S. to go on firebomb raids and drop the two atomic bombs.

Fiske Hanley, 95, of Fort Worth, one of the five POWs on the trip, took exception and mildly offered a retort.

“In a nicely worded way, he said had we not done that, the Japanese invasion was going to happen, and then 2 to 5 million would have died,” Stu said.

But that was only one uneasy moment in nine days of hospitality that was covered extensively by the Japanese press. Downing even got to experience a heated toilet seat in a Kyoto hotel.

“First time in 96 years,” he said.

And a far cry from his first trip. The return confirmed what he knew — that in war, evil most often lies with government and ideologies, and not with people. And time can change a lot.

“I’m glad I went,” Downing said. “I have a better feeling about the country. They’re more like we are. They think more like we do.”