How it started

When the late Captain Duane Heisinger first wrote to me, he asked if I could introduce him a Japanese person who, like himself, lost his/her father during World War II. "I need to reach out," he wrote.

Having published Father Found, a book about his journey to find his father who died as a POW of the Japanese, Duane was eager to help others like him.

I can only imagine the profound sadness of growing up without knowing one's father and then finding out tragic circumstances surrounding his/her father's death. The way Duane dealt with it was to help others and to reach out to more people, even those from the very country at whose hands his father died.

I saw Duane help many children, whose POW fathers never came back, by sharing information, assisting their research, and just being there to provide emotional support. Duane reached out to many people and made a difference in their lives.

What follows is a remarkable story told by a Japanese person who I introduced to Duane. It tells how much we can accomplish if we try to reach out, if we are honest about the past, and if we are willing to share our feelings. We can find friendship even from tragic history.                     
Kinue Tokudome

Friendship Born Out of Fathers Lost

                                                        Akira Tsurukame

Duane Heisinger lost his father when he was 14 years old. His father, Lawrence Heisinger, was an Army Judge Advocate General lawyer in the Philippines and later he became a POW of the Japanese with the fall of Corregidor. His father died aboard the Enoura Maru, one of the infamous “Hell Ships” in Takao, Taiwan on January 12, 1945.

Duane (far right) with his father for the last time

Akira Tsurukame lost his father when he was 3 years old. His father, Tsuruichi Tsurukame, was a chief engineer of the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-166. The submarine was sunk by British submarine Telemachus in the Straits of Malacca on July 17, 1944. His father died with 87 crew members.

Akira with his parents and sister

Katja Boonstra’s father died 7 months before she was born. Her father, Wilem Blom, was an officer of the Royal Dutch Navy submarine K-16. The submarine was sunk by I-166, whose crew included Akira’s father, in the sea near Borneo on December 25, 1941. Her father, who was 3 month newly wed, died with 35 crew members.

Katja with her mother ,  Her father she never met

Henk Bussemakar lost his father when he was 13 years old. His father, A. J. Bussemakar, was a commander of the Royal Dutch Navy submarine O-16. The submarine struck a Japanese mine in the South China Sea. His father died with 40 crew members on December 15, 1941. Henk spent 3 and a half years in a Japanese POW camp in Java, Indonesia.


In September 2003, Duane became acquainted with Akira through their mutual friend Kinue Tokudome. Duane sent Akira a book titled “Father Found” which he wrote after an extensive research into his father’s death. Its subtitle says “Life and Death as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II” as he knew that Akira was searching for his lost father too. In his book he signed “Dear Akira, in my desire to connect with a father lost in WWII, you and I share a common bond. May we build on that!”

  * More about Father Found


In October 2003, Akira finally located the exact spot where I-166 sank. He and his wife Kay visited the area and dedicated a red bougainvillea flower to his father and the comrades.


Then in November 2003, the couple flew to Den Helder, the Netherlands, where K-16 Memorial stands within the complex of the Royal Dutch Naval Base. Akira dedicated a flower to his father’s former enemies.

Katja learned the Akira’s visit to the Memorial from the Navy and invited the couple to her home. The moment Akira saw the picture of her father which was placed on the piano in the living room, tears came to his eyes and to Katja’s. The sorrow of losing a father connected Akira and Katja instantly. She too was searching for her father’s submarine. Akira introduced Katja to Duane and the three fatherless children became good friends.

Katja and Akira sharing records

In February 2004 Duane visited Akira in his Los Angeles suburb home and spent two nights/three days with Akira and his family. They shared a lot of stories – Duane’s life before and after his father’s death, Duane’s life in Japan as an American Naval officer, Akira’s life before and after he immigrated to USA etc. Then Duane flew to the Philippines together with his brother for the groundbreaking for a memorial in honor of the former Japanese POWs.

                                          Duane and Akira      

In May 2004 Akira found that the commander of the Telemachus, William King, was still alive and living in the Ireland. He flew to Galway, Ireland, with his family to meet this 94 years old British Navy Submarine hero. The commander explained in detail how he sank I-166. The visit was repeated three months later and they became very close friends.

 Katja, Commander King  and Akira

In January 2006 Duane flew to the Philippines again and participated in the dedication ceremony of the Memorial. In May he passed away at the age of seventy-five in Virginia.

In June 2006, through the introduction of Katja, Henk and his wife Elly visited Akira and his wife in Los Angeles and spent five days together. When Henk heard Akira’s story in search of his father under the blue sea, tears came to Henk’s eyes, as he remembered his past effort in trying to find his father’s submarine. At that moment, Henk and Akira connected and became friends.

Akira and Henk

August 15 is the V-J Day and the Dutch East Indies Liberation Day. On August 15, 2008, Henk’s daughter named Jet Bussemakar made a speech. Here’s her speech. The connection between four children who lost their fathers in World War II which Duane initiated in September 2003 is growing and bearing fruit.

Speech by Jet Bussemaker,
State Secretary for Public Health, Welfare and Sport

During commemoration of the liberation of the Dutch East Indies
The Hague, 15 August 2008

Ladies and gentlemen,

When I was at secondary school in the nineteen-seventies, very little was spent on the war in the Dutch East Indies in my history lessons. Europe received the bulk of the attention and Asia barely any.

At home, my father talked about his life in the former Dutch East Indies. The death of his father - a naval officer – and the Japanese prisoner of war camp, where he spent three years of his life. But his stories were never long. His war past was primarily evident from his silence and in his rejection of anything to do with Japan. No Japanese cars for him and his TV and stereo were made in Europe.

For people who experienced the war in the Dutch East Indies, the war is always present. Memories of the camps, the degrading living conditions, the humiliations, the physical pain and staring death in the face, these are all things that cannot be dissipated by time. People like my father have been living with the horror of the war for 63 years now.

For them – and for many present here today – 15 August is an important day. Because of Japan’s capitulation and the liberation of the camps, of course, but also because this day represents a recognition of the suffering that people went through in the past. A past that has not been mentioned for a long time.

It is clear that it takes time to process the war. A lot of time.

This applies not only for victims from the Netherlands and Indonesia, but also for the inhabitants of all of the countries that were involved in the war.

And not in the least for Japan.

In 1999, I visited the war memorial in Hiroshima, where it became clear to me that the war only started for Japan in 1945 according to Japanese historiography. With the atom bomb. The period from 1938 – 1945 does not seem to exist in official Japanese historiography.

15 August is commemorated, but chiefly as a date on which to remember the country’s own victims.

Fortunately, there are increasingly more people in Japan who are reacting against this and who want to face up to their past. They want to know what happened during this time and, most importantly, why. They want to break through the silence.

Processing the war takes time. A lot of time. For everyone.

This is exactly why it is so important for us to remember the war on 15 August every year. But remembering alone is not enough. We have to look ahead as well. We have to dare to look towards the future. Not alone, but together.

And do this with the perpetrators as well. By doing this, we can give the war a place and everyone will be able to learn the lessons that we need to learn from the past. Making it possible for us to liberate ourselves from a traumatic past.

I understand that this is unacceptable for many people. That they can’t muster up the strength to meet their former enemies halfway. But perhaps some victims and young people, and I’ m thinking in particular of second-generation war victims, will be able to do this. Perhaps they will want to work on the future, despite the past.

I think that it is admirable that small groups of people are already taking the lead here. Dutch people and Japanese people who are seeking each other out and showing a genuine interest in each other’s lives. My father is one of them. My father, who didn’t want to have anything to do with Japan when I was growing up, is now in contact with Akira, a Japanese man whose father was an officer on a submarine in the Second World War. Just like my grandfather.

Akira’s father was partly responsible for the destruction of a Dutch submarine and the loss of the lives of tens of Dutch people. But the Japanese submarine was torpedoed too. Which was responsible for the death of Akira’s father.

Despite this past, my parents and Akira have become friends. Because they are open to each other and discuss their history together, they are able to respect each other and don’t see each other as opponents or enemies, but as people. People of today.

I admire this. This situation has brought peace to his life and to the lives of his family. I would like everyone with a war past in the former Dutch East Indies to be able to have an experience like this.

Of course, we should never forget what happened at the hands of the Japanese. Never! We do not  need to forgive what happened to us. We don’t either. But if we want to move on and support peace, we must learn more about each other. So that we learn to accept and appreciate each other. As people with a past, but with a future too.

    * Learn more about Akira Tsurukame's journey
       to find his father and about his book.