Revisit to Japan by former US POW, Mr. Raymond C. Heimbuch

                                                by Yukako Ibuki

Mr. Raymond C. Heimbuch, former US POW’ : Retired Major of US Air Force

In mid March, 2009, Mr. Heimbuch was introduced to me by our respected mutual friend Mr. Edward Jackfert, former ADBC Commander, when Ray had decided to revisit Japan after 64 years. Appreciative for his decision, I started organizing his trip through e-mail exchange. Mr. Toru Fukubayashi, reliable researcher of POW RNJ) willingly accepted to accompany his revisits of the two old plants in Yokkaichi and Toyama, where he slave labored.

Ray was born on October 22, 1919, and at the age of 21, he volunteered and was assigned to the 5th Air Base Group, Fort Douglas, Utah. They arrived in Manila on November 20, 1941 and then were sent to Mindanao on December 1, to build a new Air Base as advance cadre, but their B-17s never arrived. They kept fighting till May 10, and became POWs by the Japanese. He was mostly in Davao Penal Colony (DaPeCol) till June 6, 1944. Then he was transported to Japan via Cebu and Manila, and finally was pushed into the hold of the Canadian Inventor, or Matte-Matte-Maru. While the whole move took 92 days, including four- to- five- days in Bilibid, it took 62 days from Manila to Moji. The ship often needed repairs in nearby harbors, with all the POWs kept stuck in the hold so tightly that they had to take turns to sit down. One cup of water and one cup of rice was given twice a day; without changing, no baths in the heat, dysentery and seasicknessthey had to get used to the stench. The Hellship voyage still haunts him in awful nightmares.

He arrived at Moji on September 2, and then 450 men including him were transferred to Yokkaichi, arriving on September 5. His weight had dropped to 98 pounds. They were assigned to Ishihara Sangyo company (ISK), based at Nagoya #5 Camp. He worked there all through the 1944-45 winter, which was extraordinarily cold, and also experienced the Great M7.9 Tou-nan-kai Earthquake, on December 7, 1944, which seriously damaged the furnaces. Most of the 19 deaths occurred in this winter. On June, 1945, he and 150 men were moved to Toyama city, and worked at Nihon Soda Iwase Steel Mill, based at Nagoya #11Branch Camp. He was liberated on September 5, 1945. He retired USAF as Major in 1961, and worked till 1978 as a Price Analyst and Contract Negotiator for the repair and purchase of missiles.

Based on Ray’s plan, his itinerary and a press release was made, which were forwarded by Toru to local researchers, namely Professor Kenji Yamaguchi and Mr. Yujiro Wada, respectively in Yokkaichi and Toyama. A few days before his departure, we could inform Ray that ISK would welcome his visit.

Meeting Ray at Narita Airport: May 14(Thursday)

Looking much younger for his age of 89, Ray gave me a friendly smile and a firm handshake. After making all the necessary reservations for a trip that would start next morning, he checked in his hotel.

Visit to Ishihara Sangyo(ISK), in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture: Ray’s two Books: May 15 (Friday)

Day one started with nice sun shine and breeze. We joined Toru in Nagoya. Ray gave us two books he wrote: I am One of the Lucky Ones, I Came Home Alive(2001), and 5 Brothers in Arms,(2008). Both of us had some materials to share with Ray. On the platform of Yokkaichi station, we were met by Mr. Ohta, from ISK Osaka main office. Mr. Kimura of Yokkaichi plant was also waiting with a company van. Everyone started talking. Current employees don’t know WWII, and Ise Gulf Typhoon in 1959, which caused 5,098 deaths and missing, damaged the company records. Hiroichiro Ishihara, founder of ISK, discovered a vein of iron in Indonesia, which afforded 45% of Japanese iron consumption during the war. (Japanese Merchant Ships Lost in WWII by Yuhji Miwa: San Remigio Copper Mine in Panay was being operated by ISK during the war. (The Blood and Mud of the Philippines by Toshimi Kumai.)

At the company, we were introduced to staff members of the ISK Yokkaichi and Professor Kenji Yamaguchi, Chairman of History Educators Conference of Mie Prefecture. Mr. Matsue presided in English, followed by Mr. Kobayashi’s welcome speech. Then Ray talked, “Thank you for inviting me. I really wanted to see the Ishihara Sangyo plant, and I assure you, I have absolutely NO hard feelings for the civilian population. They were good to us. I respect soldiers and civilians, who were doing their part for their country, just like my family was doing in the US.” He also explained about his PTDS, “I do not become violent or anything, but I cry. Another thing. I often tell jokes, It was the way we survived. I have no intention to hurt anybody with my joke. Please understand.” His personality seemed to have impressed the attendants. He started telling where his POW experience began, a few months of free life at Malaybalay POW Camp under the first commander, which changed under the second one. Then he was moved to DaPeCol, where he was engaged in all sorts of farm labor. On June 6, 1944, he was transported to Japan. While telling this nightmare experience, he sometimes cried but was ready to talk everything. However, with Toru’s suggestion they all agreed to go and see the plant first, and then listen to Ray’s story as far as time allowed.

One of Ray’s wishes was to see a shrine, which they passed by four times a day, as they had lunch at the camp, bowing each time. The location was moved but it was still there. At the Memorial, a metal plaque read in both English and Japanese: Nothing is more sublime than to sacrifice one’s own life for the sake of others. This is dedicated to those who fought and died bravely in the name of peace and freedom during World War II.” On a board beside the Memorial, it was read in Japanese, “This is a grave plaque for those Occupying Force soldiers, who passed away here during World War II. With the bouquet of our ardent wish for peace, let’s remember them so that their souls could sleep in eternal peace. “ Ray dedicated flowers, with a salute.

POW Memorial of ISK Yokkaichi

Near the surviving quay: with Chariman Yamaguchi, Mie Pre.History Educators Conference

They told us these, together with the next one for the Typhoon victims, were built after 1959. As we drove around the site, we could see all the buildings had been rebuilt, the tall chimney was gone, and a large part of the land had been reclaimed. There was a jetty, which was the only survivor from those days. However, Ray did not work near the harbor area. He demonstrated how he gave the order of bowing in front of the shrine as Hancho, or group leader, in a fluent Japanese military fashion. “I’m excellent in Japanese, but just ten words.” His vocabulary include, Sanbyaku-hachijuu-rokuban(No. 386)”, “KoraKochi koi(Hey, come here)” etc. Professor Yamaguchi and Ray talked about food, “We were eating beans. What were you eating?.” “300g rice a day and a little radish in miso soup. However, one day, as a special treat, the foreman of our group of thirty, took us to the Japanese Kitchen and we were given two bowls of beans. That helped us a lot.”

Some young employees joined us back inside. ”You see, the civilians corrected us, but some soldiers just punished. That’s the difference.” Ray told the young people, “Sense of humor is very important. You have to be able to laugh at yourself when you met some difficulty. Otherwise it will get on you.” He also talked about the law suits he tried to file against ISK in 2001, when California changed the State law. He was among hundreds of former US POWs who tried to sue the private companies. His case was turned down by the State Department, in order not to sour good relation between US and Japan. “I just wanted them know the truth of our treatment at their plants.” Three hours had passed. e bid them farewell with our heartfelt thanks, and were given a lift to the station. We were all happily excited about how warmly, with eagerness, they listened to know Ray’s experience. Ray said, “I had never expected anything like that.” Company news of ISK Yokkaishi reports three visits related to the former POWs who all came to see some kind employees they knew, which we asked for the photocopies later. The Mainichi Mie reported Ray’s visit on May 16.

Visit to Toyama city, Toyama Prefecture; Pumpkins dropped near POW camps, Mr. Yujiro Wada : May 16 (Saturday)

A chilly day of rain. We traveled four hours by train to Toyama city, and met Mr. Yujiro Wada, General Secretary of the Association for Passing-on the Toyama Air Raids. Nothing of the camp remains any more. There were six POW camps in Toyama prefecture; except for #6, most of which briefly existed for a few months towards the end of the war.

Total of four Pumpkins were dropped in Toyama; three on July 20, which Ray clearly remembers. Two fell near POW camps #11 and #7. Ray had thought the same B29 circled three times, dropping a bomb each time. But Mr. Wada told that a Pumpkin weighed 5 tons, the same size and weight as the Fat Man, and needed one B29 to carry it. Mr. Wada also discussed the local government and self guard organizations were responsible for the estimated 3,000 deaths in the Great Toyama Air Raids, which had been notified by the US leaflets scattered on the previous day. They didn’t notify evacuation to the citizens, but ordered them to remain and extinguish the fire. Some other local governments、i.e. Hachioji and Mito, let their people evacuated in the same situations.    Pumpkin Memorial Dorpped near Nagoya POW Camp #11

Visit to former Nagoya POW Camp #11 area: May 17(Sunday)   

It was strongly blowing with rain. At the roadside meeting place near the former POW Camp #11, around a dozen media reporters were waiting for us. Mr. Wada introduced the three visitors. Ray talked to them, and received questions. After 64years, Ray felt for the first time he might go and see the old places, and meet Japanese people. To make the furnace work non stop, the POWs worked in two shifts, twelve hours a day, and eighteen hours when every fifth day the night and day shift changed. For the night shift, while walking the 300m in the vegetable fields, POWs stole a little amount of any cucumber, tomato, and so forth. We walked farther to an area, surrounded by some trees, vegetable gardens, and a grave yard, where we could see the triangular roof of an old factory building, over the fence. Ray said it looks familiar to him, although there was no fence during the war.

Being asked what he felt standing at the old site again, Ray said, ”I’m glad there is no POW camp any more. War should never happen again.” He thanked the reporters who came out to interview him in a horrible weather. Later in the afternoon we watched two local TV news, featuring him. Four newspaper posted articles. Mr. Wada later wrote to me he felt encouraged in his effort of remembering the war history by knowing Ray, who holds vivid memory sustained of the past and energy to act. 

Visit to former Nihon Soda Iwase Plant, now The Pacific Rundum ; May 18 (Monday)

Sunshine being back, Toru made a phone call to the Pacific Rundom company, which has developed from the original Nihon Soda Iwase Plant, having been independent of the mother plants twice in 1949 and 1983. Towards the end of WWII, the plant was engaged in production of magnesium, non-iron metal and so on, using three rundum electric furnaces. This company also willingly accepted Ray’s visit. We were invited into the guest room, where Mr. Nakajima, Executive Director, and Mr.Kurosaka, Chief of General Affairs Department, met us with “Forty Years of the Plant”, compiled in 1976 while it was Pacific Metal Company. Mr. Kurosaka was one of the editors, and in P22, in ten paragraphs, the arrival of 148 POWs is clearly stated, which consisted of 75 Dutch, 48 American and 25 British POWs. There were two deaths, including one by an accident, and one was deranged. “We called him Chief, as he came from an indigenous tribe.” “The data and description is very precise,” Toru assured, and Mr. Kurosaki made photocopies of quite a number of pages for us.

Mr. Nakajima had heard of old days, and Messrs. Nakajima and Kurosaka took us for a drive around the compound, showing us some remaining old buildings. Ray said he knew only the area where they worked, which was very close to the camp. Finally we entered one of the buildings that survived all the years, which looked familiar to Ray. Mr. Nakajima explained what the work must have been done in those days, demonstrating with gesture. Ray was very glad, “I don’t understand the language, but I know very well what he is talking about.”
With Mr. Nakajima

In the next building, Mr. Nakajima said, “The machine is different, but it must have been something like that.” Ray agreed, “I know it’s changed, but it was like this.” It was not in use any more. Ray said, “It’s enough. It’s exactly what I wanted to see.” Two hours has passed since we arrived. “Thank you very much for your time. Now please go back to your work and stay happy.” The two gentlemen stood at the gate, waving. They both evaluated the project as an effort of bridging US and Japan, through kind e-mail messages. Toru was going home to Kyoto for that night, and Ray and I took trains to Tokyo for four hours and a half. It was decided Ray would take a day off next day, and take a good rest.

In the building where Ray worked. The machine is out of use now.



Welcome Dinner for Ray ; May 19   

Around a dozen people; Senator Fujita, researchers, journalists and civilian activists, got together surrounding Ray, in a relaxed unofficial party.

Hearing at Democratic Party of Japan’s Committee on POW Issue ; May 20

Senator Fujita invited Ray to a hearing of the Democratic Party Japan’s newly formed committee on Allied POWs. Instead of a short notice, General Secretary Kusuo Ohshima, DPJ Executive Secretary Fujita and two other Diet members joined.

Ray at DPJ's Hearing on POWs
Executive Secretary
Fujita on the right next to Vice Chairman Ohshima, May 20

Alex Martin’s article  appeared on May 21 in the Japan Times:

NHKFilming: Departure; May21

In the morning, an NHK Director filmed a pointed interview of Ray, followed by invitation to lunch.

Toru and I received Thank You message from Ray next day: “I am also starting an article on my experience. What I am going to do is write how I lived, in one week, a period of exactly one year in my life, in the same location, as I lived it 64 years ago.”


Post Script

After reading this report, Mr. Teruaki Matsue of the Publicity Department, Yokkaichi Ishihara Sangyo, wrote this letter to Ms. Yukako Ibuki.

Dear Ms. Yukako Ibuki:

Thank you for notifying us that the article on Mr. Ray Heimbuch was posted.
I've just read the essay you wrote. In the section of his visit to our Yokkaichi Plant, you have described in detail from his arrival at Yokkaichi, so Mr. Heimbuch's visit four weeks ago was reminded so vividly as if it were just yesterday.
Everything he did in Japan was also realistically accounted and I could visualize the scenes. I appreciated the warm and considerate tone of the article.
I wish from the bottom of my heart that Mr. Heimbuch's PTSD would get better through his experience of revisiting Japan.
On behalf of my company, I thank you again for your assistance.
Please extend our warm greetings to Messrs. Heimbuch and Fukubayashi.


Teruaki Matsue,
Publicity Department, Yokkaichi Ishihara Sangyo Kabushiki Kaisha


Mr. Masakazu Nakajima of Pacific Rundum also wrote to Ms. Ibuki the following letter.

Dear Ms. Yukako Ibuki

Good morning. I hope this will find you in a good health. Here in Toyama, we have had no rain since the announcement of the Meteorological Agency that Japan entered the rainy season.

I thank you for having traveled as far as Toyama to visit our company. I have just read your article, which has reminded me anew of various scenes of your visit.

In the morning of May 18, we received a sudden phone call from Mr. Fukubayashi, and were surprised to know that on the previous day your group had been at the possible site of former POW camp just outside our company complex, with media reporters covering the event.

We might not have been able to fully explain everything to you during the two hours of your visit, which we regret.

By reading the detailed and intelligible article, I have learned that Raymond-san had a very horrible experience as a POW. Since June 1944, he was sent to Japan through a long period of transport, and via Moji, he arrived at Toyama after his stay in Yokkaichi. Considering all he had gone through, I'm grateful that he made up his mind to revisit Japan, having overcome his difficult experiences.

When he came visiting, as I listened to what he did in those days, standing  where Raymond-san very probably worked, I thought he was doing nearly the same sort of operation on electric furnaces, which I did when I first entered the company in 1960. So I explained the work, demonstrating with gesture and body language. I feel very happy to know that it particularly pleased him. I'd like you to give him my best regards to Raymond-san when you talk to him next time.

Finally, I believe that a lot of people like Ms. Ibuki and Mr. Fukubayashi, who have been active in the effort of bridging between the US and Japan,  have opened the hearts of many and still spreading new friendship.

I send my best wishes to your good work.

            Please take good care of yourself in this rainy season.


Pacific Rundum,
            Masakazu Nakajima

Mr. Yasuyuki Kurosaka wrote to Mr. Fukubayashi.

Dear Mr. Fukubayashi,

Thanks for sending us your kind e-mail message and photos.

The visit was sudden, and I'm afraid our reception was not really enough.

When I joined the editing of the company history, I had learned from the senior staff about the POW internment in the history of our company a long time ago. But I have never imagined I'd meet someone in person, who would tell me about the historical truth. So I was very surprised and touched.

In spite of his great age, he came over to Toyama in order to visit his old factory. I'd like to express my respect for his having done that, and also I am very glad that he did.

I was born after the war, and do not know about those days except by reading records. However, now the number of those is reducing, who can tell the facts through their own experiences.

Seeing Mr. Fukubayashi and Ms Ibuki caring for the former POW, I felt respect towards your being active in trying to form bridges of friendship based on the facts of the war. I believe your work is great.

I'm glad that dear Raymond's long held wishes have been carried out, and the purpose of his revisit of Japan was achieved. His visit will record a memorable page in our company history, as we keep on the project.

Thank you very much again.

Lastly I wish you the best for your further good work.


Pacific Rundum Co.
            Yasuyuki  Kurosaka
(all the letters were translated by Ms. Yukako Ibuki)