An Amazing Journey:
Trip to the site of Omine Machi POW camp
In the fall of 2011, Kinue Tokudome of US-Japan Dialogue on POWs made me aware of a memorial that had been placed at the site of the last POW camp my father was in, Hiroshima #6 Branch Omine-Machi POW camp. I had a hard time imagining that the people of Mine city, where the camp had been located, would do this and I knew then that I wanted to go there and meet Reverend Hazama, who led the project of building the memorial.
In April of 2012, I had the pleasure and privilege of going to Japan to visit the site of the camp and to view the memorial. Yukako Ibuki and Kinue Tokudome, both of whom live in Japan and whom I had met during the Hellships Tour in 2006 and who have continued to be friends over the years seeing each other at the ADBC and later the DG ADBC Conventions, worked with me to set up a visit of the camp ground area, the UBE Industries (the owner of the mine POWs were forced to work in) and other interesting places that concerned the POW camps in the area.
Reverend Seiki Hazama, a Buddhist Priest met me there along with Mr. Fumio Yamamoto, a local politician who was a young boy in the village during the war, and Mr. Tadashi Iida a representative from UBE Industries. We were also joined by Mr. Kotaro Ogata, a local English teacher, who was with us the first day as an interpreter.
Reverend Hazama had had a stroke earlier in the year and I did not think I was
going to meet him and was surprised when he was there. Though frail, he went
everywhere with us and I was amazed at his history and his strong feelings to
make history remembered with the memorial. I learned that he had been in
training in Japan when the war ended. I am glad that
he never fought and instead became a leader of the Buddhist people. The world
would be a better place if there were more men like Reverend Hazama. I am
blessed that I had the opportunity to meet this amazing man of peace.
My father never talked about the war with me, and so I donít know a lot about what he went through. Talking with Ben Steele and Elton Turner, both POWs at Omine Machi, and reading the part of Ben Guytonís diary in the book of Rice and Men edited by Maj. C.E. Chunn, has been my only real connection to what it was like there. My father did tell me that he held no grudge against the Japanese as they were doing the job they were sent to do just as the Americans were doing their jobs during the war. Some of the guards got out of control and he and Ben worked to ease the strain this caused on the relations during the captivity.
(My father retired from military duty in Feb. 1954 as a lieutenant colonel. He was an active member of ADBC, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, and was its National Commander 1974-1975. With the US flag made at Omine-machi upon liberation. My grandmother is on the far left and father third from the left. Ben Guyton is between them.)
Mr. Yamamoto told me that the village was worried the POWs would rape and brutalize the villagers when the surrender happened, but instead the POWs shared their food that was flown in. As a young boy, he especially enjoyed the candy they were given. I know that he did not run into POW Ben Steele, as Ben has told me how sick he got eating all the chocolate that was dropped, so I doubt that he shared any sweets with the kids.
Besides seeing the camp area and the memorial, Mr. Iida also showed us one of the mine entrances and provided me with a sketch of the mine showing the shafts and all the information on it. I was amazed that the POWs had to walk about 2 miles to the mine everyday to work, go down into the mine a long distance to their area of work and then walk back to camp. Those guys definitely had an amazing inner desire to make it home and they were also made of a character that we do not always see in people today.
We visited the local museum that had an exhibit about the mines and showed art work that described the fact that not only were their Americans and British POWs, but also Korean workers in the mines. An Interesting fact I had not known.
I was sad that Reverend Hazama was not allowed to go with us as his daughter came with him to see us off and to take him back home to rest. I am touched that I have had the opportunity to meet a man such as him and will remember his gesture for my lifetime.
I was allowed to climb on one of their big Kenworth trucks (American) they use
in their work. I saw all the facilities and visited their Public Relations
area, guided by Ms. Makiko Nishimura, and learned how the company had grown over
the years. An interesting fact is that they no longer produce coal, but
actually import it from Australia. The chemical work they do can be found in
many of the everyday articles that we use on a daily basis.
UBE also provided a researcher, Mr. Toshio Tanaka, who had found another camp area that we also visited. This camp had some of the POWs working in coal mines under the sea.
I was humbled that UBE and my hosts were so gracious to provide me an experience of a lifetime in learning about the history of my fatherís experience at Omine Machi. The whole experience was amazing, even the excitement of riding on the fast trains. Lucky Yuka was with me or I would still be trying to get on the correct train.
I felt very fortunate that Mr. Iida, Mr. Yamamoto and Reverend Hazama took their time on a weekend to share their knowledge with me. Mr. Iida seemed a bit nervous at first possibly thinking that I would have some negative issues (with his company), but he finally relaxed when he realized that I was coming to find where my father had been and that like my father, I had no hard feelings against the Japanese. This trip would not have been possible without the help of Kinue and Yuka and I owe deep gratitude to them for arranging everything. I did become fairly competent in eating with chopsticks while there and enjoyed the cuisine.
Posted on Sep. 25, 2012
I was so impressed by the American character and sensitivity you exhibited that my admiration for America grew significantly. I hope you will cherish the memory of how you felt on that day and share it with as many American people as possible.
Lastly, let us commit ourselves to creating a peaceful world without war together.