Gen. King’s decision to surrender was in contradiction to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s order of “No Surrender.” MacArthur said, “If all else fails you will charge the enemy.” Knowing he could be court-martialed, King, believing this may be the only chance for his men to survive, ordered the surrender.
The Japanese military believed in the Samurai code of conduct, known as Bushido, which held that the true warrior was willing to die for the emperor, and would never surrender. And so we marched, constantly being told we were lower than dogs for surrendering. It was called a death march not because of how many died, but because of the way they died. If you stopped you were killed, if you had a malaria attack you were killed, and if you had dysentery and had to stop, you were killed. And how did they kill you ... by shooting or bayoneting you, or by decapitation. And in one instance, as others had to watch, they buried a soldier alive. If you survived the Bataan Death March and the first prison camp, you were then herded onto old unmarked Japanese freighters, known as “Hell Ships,” for the trip to Japan. Twenty-six hell ships were sunk by American air and sea forces, taking thousands of American lives.
If we survived the Bataan March, the POW camp in the Philippines and the hell ship to Japan, we were then placed into forced labor with some of Japan’s leading industrial giants, such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Nippon Sharyo and Kawasaki, working in their mines, on their docks or in their factories. Although we were their slaves, the companies failed to feed us adequately, failed to take care of our medical needs and failed to stop the physical abuse that was orchestrated and carried out by the civilian workers of those same Japanese companies. The everyday beatings with shovels, hammers and pickaxes caused many severe lifetime injuries to those of us who survived.
The reason you haven’t heard these details is because most former POWs were required to sign a military document stating we would not discuss events while a POW without obtaining approval from the War Department. Doing so could result in severe penalties, or court-martial. And so we kept quiet all these years, but now after 70 years we must speak out, as we have some unfinished business to take care of.
Our unfinished business is with those companies who used and abused American POWs during Word War II. We received an apology from the Japanese government. Now we need an apology from the companies that allowed their employees to beat us on a daily basis for simple infractions of not working hard or fast enough. We survivors want our honor returned, and one way to do that is through an apology from the companies that used POWs during World War II.
Time is a great healer; we have gotten on with our lives, but we still have some unfinished business we must attend to before we meet our maker. An apology from those Japanese companies is necessary in order to wipe away those injustices. Though we could never control when or where we might die, we always could control how we lived. We never lost faith in our God or our country. Dying was easy: It’s the living that’s hard.