Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Impressions of their return to Japan

On September 13, 2010 the Government of Japan offered an official apology for the abuse and misuse of the Americans they held as prisoners of war during World War II. With the apology the Japanese Government initiated a week-long visitation program for six American former POWs of Japan and two descendants. The second POW/Japan Friendship visit was held in October 2011 with seven former POWs. 

These are the first programs for American POWs. Each trip cost less than $200,000. Japan has maintained research and exchange programs with all other Allied former POWs since 1995 spending over $15 million through 2005 alone. From 2001 to 2005, the U.S. Justice Department noted $5.5 million of declared lobbying expenditures by the Japanese government to fight any and all efforts by the American POWs for recognition and justice.

Below are quotes from some of the participants that express the success of this program for American POWs of remembrance and reconciliation. They show the power of apology backed by deeds. The POWs hope that the Government of Japan will expand and enhance the visitation program to include descendants and researchers as well as create a permanent fund for remembrance and reconciliation.

Copies of this report are circulating on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. State Department.

Apology to POWs delivered by Foreign Minister Okada
From meeting the various government dignitaries; to having such helpful and caring guides to educate us about their country; to the amazing topography of the land; to the most beautiful accommodations and the graciousness of the Japanese people; for me this has been a trip I will never forget. I feel so privileged to have been able to accompany my father on what I know has been a trip he never imagined he would take again. - Judy Chorley, eldest daughter of former POW Master Sgt., Donald L. Versaw, USMC, who accompanied him to Japan, The Quan, December 2010.
We were met at the Beppu City Senior Citizens Club, by the city’s 'Mayor' and the club’s board members. We enjoyed some green tea and polite conversation, which included Dad sharing some of his experiences as a former POW. This was followed by a question/answer period that was all very polite and I was impressed with the level of concern, expressed by the members, for my father's ability to endure and later prosper, after his mistreatment. At the conclusion of the meeting, one of the members expressed his hope that all evolved would be able to "forget the bad feelings that may linger." - Benjamin Rosendahl, son of former POW Technical Sergeant Robert Rosendahl, US Army, The Quan, December 2010.
Memoiral at Ishihara Sangyo in Yakkaichi
Szwabo said that while he won't ever forget what he witnessed, it's time to forgive."While we were there, the Japanese treated us like kings," he said. "People were interested in hearing our side of the story, and I think it opened some eye." He said his trip to Japan has given him a new peace about the issue. "I figure I was lucky," he said. "A lot of POWs didn't make it back." Former POW Chief Warrant Officer Earl Szwabo, US Army, St Louis Dispatch, September 29, 2010.
A young Japanese woman followed me onto the bus after the press conference in Japan. She handed me her card-she was a press correspondent for a major United States news magazine. On the bus she proceeded to tell me that she had only recently learned about her grandfather's history. He had been a Japanese camp commandant and had been tried as a war criminal and convicted and imprisoned for five years. She then began to sob and apologize. - Jan Thompson, Descendants Group President, daughter of former POW Robert Thompson, was a Pharmacist Mate on the U.S.S. Canopus, The Quan, December 2010.

On Sept. 14, [Edward] Jackfert visited a Showa Denko factory in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture [where he had been a slave laborer]. According to sources who were involved in the visit, Jackfert met with Showa Denko's administrative manager and asked that higher-ups in the company be informed of the former POWs' wish for an apology, not financial compensation, to liberate those who still suffer from painful memories and promote reconciliation between the two countries. The company representative promised to deliver the message. Jackfert also toured the factory grounds. Jackfert, who says he has been waiting to hear the words "I'm sorry" for the past 65 years, remained positive about Showa Denko's reception, saying that he hoped his visit will prove to be a launching pad from which to enhance further goodwill between the two countries. Mainichi Shimbun, September 17, 2010.
Apology to POWs delivered by Foreign Minister Gemba
 Mr. Roy Friese met up with Mr. Kensuke Morooka, Representative of the Association for Recording Air Raids of Omuta. His family home was completely destroyed in the fire-bombing of June 18, 1945. “I remember I saw POWs when I was a boy of thirteen. The skeletal POWs were crammed upright into trucks,” he told Mr. Friese as they shook hands. “The facts of sixty-six years ago should never be forgotten. But instead of animosity, we have to hold onto our belief that stupid wars should never happen again,” said Mr. Morooka. “I had felt various prejudices but they are all gone now,” said Mr. Friese as he left the POW camp site. Nishi Nippon Shimbun, October 19, 2011, evening edition.
Meeting at Japan Metals & Chemicals
"This trip to Japan is beyond my expectations and my beliefs that this could ever take place," [Robert] Vogler said during a news conference Friday at the Japan National Press Club in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo…. "We went to the Kamioka mayor's office [in 1997], and they flew the American flag. Then we went to the mine, which was still operating back then, and they also flew the American flag. And then we went to a local school, where the kids sang us three songs they had learned in English," Vogler said. "They also had the American flag, and tears were running down — if you had a hard heart, it was now soft," he said. While his memories of the POW camp will always haunt him, Vogler feels that the delegation's visit and his 1997 trip to Kamioka were helpful in coming to terms with the years he spent as a POW. "Some good can come from forgiveness," he said. Japan Times, October 23, 2010.

In an exchange with officials at Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. (JMC)’s Takaoka Works and Harold Bergbower and Jim Collier: “I saw friendship that happened between generations, between the generation from the Japan Metals Company and these two former POWs, sitting down at a small table, drawing a diagram, and discussing what the camp history was in 1944. And those men laughing and talking and communicating. That was where the friendship was. And that peace of mind helped and is helping my father at the age of 91.” Ms. Debra Bergbower-Grunwald, the daughter of former POW Chief Master Sergeant Harold Bergbower US Army Air Corps, Comment on the US-Japan POW Dialogue Website.

“I was torn,” said [Jim] Collier, a retired teacher and guidance counselor from Salinas, Calif., who spoke to Stars and Stripes via telephone after touring the Takaoka factory Tuesday. “The company officials were so gracious and well-prepared.” But all the pleasantries essentially distracted him, he said, and the site had totally changed after decades of development. “I didn’t slay any demons today,” Collier said. “It was a very nice distraction. ... But those feelings are always right there lurking under the surface, like a volcano.” Stars & Stripes, October 20, 2010.

Mr. Collier later reflected on the trip to Takaoka, whose natural beauty he had never recognized while being a POW: “After meeting the kind people at JMC and after observing the beautiful surroundings of the city, I realized that I had been robbed of the opportunity of truly knowing this place for the past 66 years. Takaoka had always remained as a dark and depressing place in my mind. Yet this visit has finally afforded me the opportunity to appreciate its beauty.” Comment on the US-Japan POW Dialogue Website.

Exchange with Japanese researchers of the POW issue

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