Courage to Remember:
Reviewed by Kinue Tokudome
“Why would I, a comfortably retired man of ninety- four, want to undertake the enormous task of writing a book at this stage of my life?” So asks Dr. Lester Tenney, a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March and more than three years of abuse, torture, and slave labor as a POW of the Japanese during WWII.
Fourteen years ago, US District Court Judge for N.D. California, Vaughn Walker, told former POWs of the Japanese when he dismissed their forced labor lawsuits against Japanese companies:
And while full compensation for plaintiffs’ hardships, in the purely economic sense, has been denied these former prisoners and countless other survivors of the war, the immeasurable bounty of life for themselves and their posterity in a free society and in a more peaceful world services the debt.
Dr. Tenney felt that it was as if the judge was saying, “You’re living, aren’t you? Isn’t that enough?” But for Dr. Tenney, just living was not enough. He must restore justice and honor that were denied for him and his fellow POWs. Thus began his long and hard battle to achieve that goal. He almost succeeded. Because of his tireless efforts, the Japanese government in 2010 officially apologized for the inhuman treatment of American POWs during WWII and started an invitation program for surviving POWs to promote reconciliation. (But he is still waiting for the Japanese companies that enslaved POWs to issue an apology.)
Still, just living is not enough for Dr. Tenney. So now with this beautifully written book, he tries to help others who, as he himself did for a long time, suffer PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He does so by sharing with readers another battle, that of overcoming pain, anger, and survivor’s guilt. He confessed how hard it was to forgive, especially forgive himself. But in the end he was able to say:
Now I realize forgiveness was not something I conferred on others after I decided they deserved it. No, it was something I deserved, a gift I gave myself: the gift of peace of mind. Through forgiveness, I moved from victim to survivor. Because of forgiveness, I am a prisoner no more.
He also movingly tells about finding true love and friendships that became the turning point in his battle.
Dr. Tenney’s ever positive attitude fill every page of this book. For example, about his lost lawsuit he wrote:
One of the things Betty and I have said for years was, “We didn’t make a penny off the trial, but we sure made a million dollars worth of friendships.” We never would have otherwise met all the people we met, or gone the places we went. It was all because of the trial, and even more, because we lost the trial!
This book is a gift of love and friendship from Dr. Tenney, who challenges us all:
…the end of my story is the beginning of yours, or of someone you know and love... “I know you have suffered. I have been there, too.” It’s also my way of challenging you to do the work that only you can do to restore yourself to the life you are entitled.
M.D. Alisa Gean, Professor of Neuroradiology at the University of San Francisco and an expert on PTSD, and Congressman Darrell Issa wrote forewords to this book.
visited Dr. Tenney at his home in Carlsbad, CA. He autographed this book for me.
It brought back the memory of my very first visit with him in the spring of
1999, when he autographed his memoir, My Hitch in Hell, for me. Since
then, it has been exciting 15 years filled with many memories and many
Congratulations Lester, on another major accomplishment in your life and thank you for this gift of love and friendship!
(Posted on October 7, 2014)