Ex-US POW Visits Omuta after 66 years Forced to Work at POW Camp Coal Mine
Nishi Nippon newspaper, October 19, 2011, evening edition
Mr. Roy Friese, an 88 year old resident of California who was held at Fukuoka #17 POW camp and forced to work at a coal mine visited Omuta City for the first time in sixty-six years on October 19 after being invited by the MoFA. Standing on the site of the former camp, Mr. Friese thought deeply as he related, “I’ve forgiven, but painful memories I can’t stop keep coming back.”
Mr. Friese was captured as a POW in the Philippines in 1942, and was sent to Japan in July 1943 and interned in Fukuoka #17 POW Camp. He was engaged in shoveling coal in Mitsui Miike Coal Mine to supplement the labor shortage in the coal mining industry. Arriving in Japan as part of the MoFA program designed for “heartfelt reconciliation”, he stood in Shin-ko-machi town where the POW camp was once located.
The site of the former POW camp, which was surrounded by tall fences and barbed wire has been converted into a coal yard. Mr. Friese clearly remembers some Japanese words such as "Ki－o－tsuke” （Attention!）and “Migi muke migi!” (Right turn!). He recalled his life then, “The forced labor was hard. In order to stay away from work I had a friend crush my left little finger. I was once interned in the eiso (guard house) without food or water. My POW number was hyaku-nana-ju-san (173).”
A total of 1,737 Allied POWs including 730 Americans were held in the camp, which was one of the largest in Japan. According to the POW Research Network Japan, an organization dedicated to investigating the actual conditions of the POWs, around 30,000 POWs were sent to and interned in about 130 camps throughout Japan, particularly in Fukuoka where there were a large number of coal mines. A total of ten camps were there, in places such as Iizuka, Tagawa and so on, besides Omuta.
Mr. 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.
by Yuka Ibuki assisted by Anthony Walsh]