Sunday, March 31, 2013

Appeal to President Obama

On Thursday, March 28th, the Executive Director of the Washington Headquarter of the Disabled American Veterans service organization, Barry Jersinsoki hand delivered a letter to the White House for the American POWs of Japan asking the President to continue to press Japan for justice for the POWs.

The new Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has indicated that he may revisit and revise past war apologies. This can possibly jeopardize Japan's apology to the American POWs of Japan and the associated visitation program to Japan. Democratic Japan to engender trust should be expanding not retracting its acts of contrition.

The letter was signed by Joseph Vater, President of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) Memorial Society. Most surviving American POWs of Japan are DAV members.

ADBC Members 2012

The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Mr. President:

The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) Memorial Society represents surviving POWs of Japan, their families, and descendants. We write to ask that you and your Administration encourage the Japanese government to continue and expand a program—the POW/Japan Friendship Program—that has done much to honor the now aging population of former U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and mariners who were prisoners of war in Japan during World War II. 

The program is now at risk under the Abe government; cancellation would be a grave mistake and undermine recent reconciliation efforts by Japan.

In WWII, tens of thousands of American military and civilian personnel were held as POWs by the Japanese, mostly in the Philippines. Later, they were sent to Japan and other places on “Hellships” to be the slave labor’s who ran the factories, mines, and dockyards of Japanese industry. Those who survived carried out back-breaking labor.  Four of every ten died in captivity from brutal treatment and willful neglect by the Japanese military and company employees.

In 2009, the Japanese government at long last delivered a formal apology to American POWs for the abuse and maltreatment inflicted upon them during the war. The following year, a program of reconciliation, POW/Japan Friendship Program, was established by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Three groups of former American POWs and their family members have been invited to Japan over the past three years.

The POW/Japan Friendship Program has brought immeasurable benefits to the former POWs, their families, and to the U.S.-Japan relationship. As you can see from this representative note to our newsgroup, it has brought closure and peace of mind to its participants:

This program has really helped my Dad [Harold Bergbower].  For years, Dad would have nightmares after any talk, show, or sometimes just because of his years as a POW.  Since our visit his nightmares have gone.  I cannot really put in words what that day at the Japanese Factory in Takaoka, Toyama, Japan did.  He has not forgotten or totally forgiven but there is now a peace to his remembrance. If you are able please consider participating in this program.  My Dad's memory is failing on his daily activities but he continues to recall his trip to Japan.  Now when he talks about his POW experience he can now add closure. 

More impressions of former POWs who have participated in the POW/Japan Friendship Program are on the Outreach section of our website at

The program has been a solid example of learning together from the past while promoting dialogue and friendship between Americans and Japanese.

It concerns us that the Abe Administration may end the POW/Japan Friendship Program. The success of this visitation program should encourage democratic Japan to do more, not less.

We want widows, children, and other descendants to be included in the program as they have also been affected by POW experience of their relatives. We want those Japanese companies that enslaved American POWs to acknowledge their use of POWs. We want their government to continue and expand this program to include research, documentation, and people-to-people exchanges.

Presently, some of these companies do not even allow our nonagenarian POWs to visit the sites of their imprisonment and slave labor. This issue is even more poignant today as two Abe Cabinet ministers have family ties to companies that used POW slave labor during the war.

We are grateful for the State Department’s past efforts to encourage the Japanese government to do the right thing by initiating a process of reconciliation with American POWs.

We ask that you encourage Japan to maintain this successful visitation program for former POWs, members of America’s greatest generation, and to expand it to make it a permanent program of friendship and education that will benefit both Americans and Japanese in years to come. 

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