THE WAR HAS ENDED BUT THE
MEMORY LINGERS ON
Dr. Lester Tenney
Commander Alexander, fellow POWs, honored guests and decedents of our departed friends. I am honored to have been asked to share with you some of my thinking on our fight for justice. Over the years all of us in some manner or other have been involved in many discussions regarding events that occurred on Bataan or Corregidor, or from our stint in a Japanese POW camp.
Some how or other, these discussions would get around to words of “love and understanding, or phrases emphasizing compassion and forgiveness, or even words of encouragement and friendship,” but this evening I will try to share with you the words and values of responsibility. Being responsible for your actions. Accepting responsibility when things don’t go just right, and then being willing and able to live with the knowledge that you performed to the best of your ability, that you did the right thing at that time.
I had heard many comments from the “know it all bunch” who said my lawsuit was about money and that I was jumping on the bandwagon of the holocaust victims. Well let me set the record straight right now! My first letter to the State Department asking for information as too how I could go about recovering from the Japanese companies that enslaved and abused me while a prisoner of war, was postmarked November 7, 1946. Yes, 1946. Only a week or two later I received a reply from the State Department in a letter dated November 18, 1946, stating that I didn’t have to hire a lawyer or other organization to represent me in my quest for justice, as the State Department would do this for me, and would notify me shortly.
Well as of today, May 20, 2006, I haven’t heard a word.
Sixty years ago Japan surrendered and peace was finally restored. Yet some of us are still waiting for our former enemy to accept their responsibility, as we accepted ours. We former POWs accepted our responsibility, when we surrendered to the barbaric, sadistic enemy we accepted our fate, and we over the years have paid the price for our being responsible soldiers, sailors and marines, and for many of us, we are still paying the price even today.
Being responsible means accepting your role in an event. You then have the obligation of accepting the facts that surrounded the event, you evaluate these facts, and then dispense justice accordingly, you should do so without being prejudiced as to its outcome. In the case of we American POWs against the Japanese Industrial Giants, I believe the courts were prejudiced in favor of the friendship that has developed between the United States and Japan.
The Supreme Court turned aside our appeals for Justice. Our appeal, like our lawsuit, was brought about because of the forced labor and the constant beatings, given us by the enemy, and the lack of food and medical care denied us by the Japanese companies we were forced to labor for. The Courts decision, as reported to the world, was, they said, “without comment.” In effect, this ends our long hard journey in seeking justice.
Our lawyers had this to say to the court:
“Japanese conglomerates survived the war in part by using slave labor, and then thrived in the postwar industrial boom. These men have suffered unspeakable abuses down through the years in captivity, they represent the finest of the generation that fought and won the Second World War, incurring enormous personal loss to preserve our way of life against severe and imminent threats. The perversity of the mistreatment of these men – outside the laws, customs and conventions of war which all civilized Nations were and are now obligated to honor – will always remain a dark shadow over the history of the 20th century.”
In spite of this eloquent and highly motivating speech, the high court still rejected our argument to have pour case heard in a court of law, and voted not to hear our plea for justice.
Our legal fight was never about money, it was about honor, dignity and responsibility, and just like the people of Japan, we also take pride in our honor and dignity. But it was taken from us, and all we ever wanted since our return home was to have it restored by those who violated our rights as human beings. We wanted those who stole our honor to accept their responsibility and to account for their transgressions. If that meant monetary damages, then so be it. Are we not entitled to compensation for our labor?
We were surrendered once, when our commanding General told us to put down our arms, but we are not surrendering again. Our fight was once again presented to Congress with the introduction of the “Samuel B. Moody Bataan Death March Compensation Act.” (H.R. 30) Which in effect bequeaths $4 per day for each day held as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. (With a stated 3% interest.) The shortfall of this Bill is that it is intended to only go to those who survived the Death March, and no benefit would be given to a surviving spouse if she remarried. We can not support such a Bill that treats us in this manner.
And thanks to Linda Holmes for her untiring effort on our behalf, and finding just recently that some of we POWs had our pay deposited into a Japanese Postal Account in our behalf. If this proves to be true, then those of us who had our pay deposited this way may have three or four thousand dollars coming. Our thanks also to Kinue Tokudome and Yuka Ibuki for their effort these past five years to win for us the justice we have been seeking.
Let me cite an example of how the Supreme Court views important cases. Anna Nicole Smith, remember her, she recently won a 9-0 decision by members of the United States Supreme Court. The highest court in our land recently decided that it was more important to hear the case of Anna Nicole Smith, rather than the case of American POWs against Japanese interests.
In the Smith case, the Supreme Court held, essentially, that the California Federal Court should hear her claim, instead of any other Federal or State court, for money damages from the estate of her very rich but dead husband,. The Texas court had ruled Smith was entitled to nothing, but a California court disagreed, and the saga of Anna Nicole Smith played out just a few weeks ago, in the Supreme Court of our land. The court of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Do you notice any similarities in Nicole Smith’s case and our case? The two cases were filled in the same Supreme Court, asking for the same benefit: Nothing more than the requirement to have our case heard and decided on in a California Court, that was our case in a nutshell! That was also Ann Nicole Smith’s case.
She was fighting her stepson, for the one-and-a-half billion dollar estate that she says should all belong to her. After all, this 30 year old strip club dancer was married to this 89 year old billionaire for over a year. To say this was one ugly lawsuit understates it immensely. So, what we have here, is that the United States Supreme Court chose to hear a case involving very rich people, fighting over money and eating up untold millions of dollars in court costs, attorney’s fees and those hidden costs of administrating a lawsuit, instead of a case brought by Veterans who had been victimized, abused, denied their rights and castigated for seeking justice.
Anna Nicole Smith was lucky, her case was heard by the members of the Supreme Court, and they voted in her favor. Let me repeat: In her favor! As you know, the same court refused to hear our case, instead they ruled that the Treaty solved all issues. This was the same argument the State and Justice Department had argued for all during the past fours years of hearings. Our attorneys fought a hard battle, they had the evidence and the experts to present it, we had on our side some of most knowledgeable people on Treaty issues in the world, but they could not overcome the words of our government leaders, and their desire for continued friendship with the Japanese, ruled the day.
You may ask how could such a travesty of justice occur? How did the Ann Nicole Smith case get the pleasure of the court, yet our case was locked out?
The answer no doubt lies at the influence of the parties presenting their rebuttal, our State Department. In our hearing we had respectable, well know, highly knowledgeable lawyers representing our position. The party fighting us, those who did not want to have our case heard, was The US State Department and Department of Justice. Their influence, although their case was not as clearly presented, was felt by members of the court, and their argument that the Treaty solved all issues no doubt overly influenced the courts decision in the our case.
You may ask do I know this information as FACT… No, I do not. But I do know the arguments presented to the court on our behalf, and I knew the arguments and influence used by the State Department. By the Supreme Court ruling that our case not be heard, justice to we former POWs was taken from us and the citizens of this great country will be denied of knowing just how treacherous and abusive the enemy was.
Yes, the war has ended but the memory lingers on.
We were soldiers, sailors and marines, who accepted our responsibility, why can’t those who caused this mayhem accept their responsibility? Lawsuit or no lawsuit, those Japanese companies who abused and mistreated their workers, we POWs, have a duty and responsibility to do the right thing!
As I stand here today, I am no longer a prisoner of the Japanese. Those who beat and tortured me are no longer alive in my mind? You see, I, like so many of you got on with my life. We had to let go of the past and get on with the future in order to survive. I have found that the fence that shuts others out also holds you in.
Our continued fighting for justice has made many of us feel better about ourselves, and because of that we are no longer handcuffed to those who hurt and humiliated us. Recovering our dignity, honor and self-esteem has allowed us the luxury to lash out at those who abused or mistreated us, whether it was from the enemy outside, or the enemy within.
The bible tells us that the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam plead for “Gods forgiveness of human error” and the Bible says God is merciful and forgiving, and in following that hypothesis, we are asked to forgive. And my forgiving is God’s way of helping me to deal with the pain and animosity of the past.
You see, “The War has ended, but the memory lingers on.”
During the war, we survivors fought fervently for the very freedom that is now being denied us, we the survivors from Bataan and Corregidor, from Midway, Wake and Guam, who were captured and held prisoner for more than three-and-a-half years, are still fighting.
In seeking our day in court, hoping for responsibility from our past enemy, we are being told in essence that the State Department has successfully blocked our request for justice, unfortunately the Supreme Court has agreed with them.
The apparent reason appears to be due to the need to protect the friendship that exists between our two Nations. I can accept that hypothesis, for it’s important to have friends in that part of the world. But friendship should not influence what is right or wrong. The Supreme Court of the United States, when asked to decide whether we should have our day in court, became overly influenced by legal jargon filed by our State Department, which was one of the issues that caused the Supreme Court to not rule in our favor, and not to honor our request that a local court should hear our case.
It is shocking to me, that at this time in our country’s history, while our armed forces are facing capture or death, and doing so with promises made by our State Department that they will be taken care of, that we veterans of a past war, have not only been forgotten, but have been denied the same promises given to us those many years ago.
Well here is our message to the State Department, although we lost our case, we did not surrender. We will continue this fight for justice as long as there is a POW survivor left alive. It has to do with what is right. Not what is right only if others say so. For what others do or not-do will not dictate to me what I should do. A right is always right no matter how many say otherwise, and a wrong is always wrong no matter how many say differently. And having the knowledge of what is right and wrong is only the first step to being a responsible person, the second step is doing what is right and not being afraid to criticize someone who is wrong. It is important to express your opinions and criticize where necessary, and complement where appropriate. I admit, I call it as I see it.
Oh yes, “The War has ended, but the memory lingers on.” You see, God promised us a safe landing – but not a calm passage.
In spit of my feelings of the State Department I love my country and always pay respect for our flag. Speaking of our flag reminds me of the sayings of our departed friend and past Commander, Frank Bigelow. Frank and I spend many a day, and many hours together on National TV and radio shows around the country saying that “Justice delayed is Justice denied.” And Frank always ended his interview by saying, “I love our Flag.”
So in honor of Frank I would like to close with you the words of a song written by Johnny Cash, he said he wrote it with the idea that it would not be sung, just said, said from the heart. …. So here goes.
THAT RAGGED OLD FLAG
I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, "Your old courthouse is kinda run down."
He said, "Naw, it'll do for our little town."
I said, "Your flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that's a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it.
He looked at me and said, "Have a seat young fella", and I sat down.
"Is this the first time you've been to our little town?"
I said, "I think it is." He said, "I don't like to brag,
But we're kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag."
"You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching while writing _Oh Say Can You See_.
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams."
"And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on through.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag."
"On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a big Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II
On Bataan and Corregidor, Okinawa on Normandy Beach too
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent, by her Uncle Sam."
"She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land she's been abused --
She's been burned, dishonored, denied and refused."
"And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout most of the land.
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in.
'Cause she's been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more."
"So we raise her up every morning,
Take her down every night.
We don't let her touch the ground
And we fold her up just right.
On second thought my friend, I DO want to brag,
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag."
Thank you! And God bless America