Grandsons of Japanese POW and Bataan Death March Survivor Travel to Japan

Timothy C. Ruse
Author,  WE VOLUNTEERED. A Biography of Carl Robert Ruse, Survivor of the Bataan Death March and Prisoner of the Japanese, 1942-1945


November 9th, 2010

While writing a biography of my Grandfather's wartime experiences for my sons who unfortunately never met him before he died, I often wished that I could have spoken to some people who had known my Grandfather while he was a POW, but in the last ten years or so, that has become virtually an impossibility.  My interest in his experience started at a young age, but was sealed in my mind forever ten years ago when I sat down and interviewed him on film as a part of a High School Social Studies project.  He passed away only two years later.  Fortunately, there are many excellent memoirs of former POWs that I could read, as well as a wealth of other information housed in other Museums and Archives in order to learn more about his experiences.  Yet, for me, by the time I began seriously researching his life, these opportunities for face to face contact were greatly diminished. 

It might be for this reason that I first got the idea to try to track down the boy who had given him food in the Yokkaichi/Ishihara Sangyo POW Camp.  While a POW being forced to work with daily rations consisting of a ladle of rice and perhaps some sort of broth, he was working in a metal smelter that the Japanese were using to support their war efforts.  He had experienced hell on earth for several years, and I wanted to do the best I could to document his story for my sons and for the rest of his descendants.  Here are a couple of his memories of the place: 


"There was a mound of these items outside of the factory there nearly as big as a rodeo coliseum. Women would bring them in there, carrying them in baskets. These women would work in there with babies strapped onto their backs, and they'd carry those items like cigarette lighters, cigarette holders, idols, lamps, and things like that, made out of brass or copper. They would bring them in there and dump them in to be melted."

  

"While I was working there, there was an old Japanese man and a little Japanese boy that I figure was about ten years old, and he would slip food to me every once in a while. The boy and I became pretty good friends, although he couldn't show it. He would slip food to me although he really couldn't spare it."
 

 

                               

         Carl Ruse at Yokkaichi camp          Carl received this photo from the boy           

This generosity and compassion of this boy was significant not only because there was very little food to go around, but also because the calorie intake for a POW was so little. While, I doubt that this ration of rice was the difference between life and death, it certainly helped him along, and yet, weighing only eighty pounds at the time, it certainly could have been. As a part of my research, I thought it would be interesting to try to track down this boy, and see if I could learn his recollections of his time at Ishihara. It was only in May of this year when I contacted Kinue Tokudome of  " The US-Japan Dialogue on POWs", and through her, the search began. 

To my surprise, an article on my search for the boy was published in Japan on September 11th, 2010,  and then things began to happen very quickly. (Japanese Article)  On the 22nd, I received an invitation from the Nanzan School in Nagoya to travel to Japan only six weeks later.  

My wife Meagan and I arrived in Japan on Tuesday, November 9th, 2010, after a 12.5 hour flight from Detroit, a 2 hour flight from DC, and a 4 hour layover in-between.  My brother Steve had already arrived in Nagoya a few days earlier. We were met at the airport by Father Kumagawa, from the Nanzan School, an interpreter, and someone who seemed like an old friend due to all of the emailing we've done, Kinue Tokudome.  We took a train from the airport to our Hotel, and Father Kumagawa and I had a very meaningful conversation through the interpreter. On the ride downtown, Mr. Kumagawa told us about his students who have done much to prepare for tomorrow, and who initiated my invitation.         

Father Shigeya Kumagawa      
                                                  
There is a panel of five students called "Cherry Blossom Group" in the all-boys school which is responsible for choosing a speaker to come to the school each year.  While I was flattered to have been invited, I had to tell him that I of course was not here for anything I had done, but rather for something my Grandfather had done because it is his story that I am here to tell, and not my own.

Our hotel room is on the 38th floor, and the window shades are wide open.  Nagoya is a clean and quiet city, and the hotel was built just above the city's major train station hub.  Just down below the window are several tracks coming into the station, as they did during WWII, and I keep looking down and thinking that my Grandfather passed right over those tracks on a train bound for Yokkaichi after months in the hold of a ship from the Philippines. 

November 10th, 2010

              
                                             
  Stained glass at Nanzan School

Today I spoke to 1200 high school boys at Nanzan School. I was extremely impressed with the discipline that the students showed, and how respectful and courteous they were. The generosity of the school is more than I can express with words. We all had breakfast with Kinue here at the hotel, and then a teacher and the translator met us in the hotel lobby and two taxis took us to the school. When we arrived we were taken inside for a formal tea with the principal and some of the teachers from the school, and the Principal Officer from the U.S. Consulate's office here in Nagoya, Jonas Stewart, showed up and we spoke with him for half an hour or so before the lecture started.

The first lecture and ceremony for high school students started with music from a student, and a scripture reading. This was followed by a brief address by Mr. Stewart from the U.S. Consulate. Then, I gave my speech, which consisted of a bit of my Grandfather’s background and his experiences as a POW. I had thirty minutes to speak and ended up cutting down some of what I had in my notes due to the fact that it was taking longer than I had expected to translate my words, but I am certain that this was more than any of these students had ever heard about the terrible treatment of POWs during the war. I saw several wide eyes in the audience as they listened to the translation.  
 

Text of Timothy's Speech at Nanzan School

The talk was followed by a traditional Japanese lunch with some of the school administrators, and the other guests, and then later in the afternoon I gave the second talk to junior high students.   We ended the day with tea with the students and had a very good discussion with them, and I think they left with a much more rounded view of what really happened on both sides of WWII. When we polled them, none of them had ever spoken of WWII with their parents. 
 


With members of "Cheery Blossom Group" of Nanzan School

When we arrived back at the hotel, the story was on local news, and we were all pleased to see the delivery of a story seldom heard by the Japanese people. 



It was a  good opportunity to learn about those facts
which we don’t normally learn from our history textbook.
(
Courtesy of Chukyo TV)

November 11th, 2010 (Veteran's Day)

Today was the day that we finally visited Ishihara Sangyo's Yokkaichi plant, where my Grandfather did forced labor as a Prisoner of the Japanese during World War II.  It happened to be Veteran's Day, which made the trip even more meaningful.  This was the place where he had spent one of the three and a half years of his imprisonment at this camp. 

He arrived here on a train after two months in the hold of a ship that had come from the Philippines in 1944. We left Nagoya for Yokkaichi by train in the morning, traveling the same tracks that he had 66 years ago.

When we arrived at the train station, a van was parked outside with the Ishihara Sangyo logo on the side.  We rode from town to the peninsula where the company is still located and where the prison barracks once stood, and when we arrived there were a dozen or so Ishihara executives waiting to escort us inside. We were taken upstairs and served tea, and an envelope was given to each of us. Apparently, someone there had seen the original article that had been published two months earlier, and had been looking for clues about the boy we had been searching for. We also compared notes about maps and photos that we had found of the site. They were amazed when they saw a copy of the book with photos of their company inside and several scrambled to get a look. 


 

The trip to Ishihara was a sensitive one as some time back there had been a push to compensate POWs who had been made to do forced labor by private companies during the war, but were never compensated. Unfortunately for these men, a court ruling in the U.S. banned lawsuits by individuals against Japanese corporations during WWII due to a 1951 peace treaty with Japan.  Given the circumstances, we were pleased to be allowed to visit at all. 

I do however believe that an apology to those POWs who had served there should be something that these companies should consider. While just recently a significant stride was made when an apologies were made by the Japanese Ambassador the U.S. as well as the Japanese Foreign Minister on behalf of the Japanese government, no apology has been made by these private companies, which would be meaningful for those that still survive today. Before long, however, there will be none left to apologize to, and the opportunity will be gone forever.  Not only would this be a shame for these former POWs, it would also be a shame for these companies to miss this opportunity to take responsibility for a very significant part of their history. 

With this sensitive background in mind, the trip was a very friendly and cordial one. While an official apology has not been made by the company, representatives there expressed that this was "a very dark time in their company's history," and that it was unfortunate. Anyhow, we were there to walk on the ground where my grandfather had, and to learn more about him. Once they realized this, some of the initial tension I might have sensed eased substantially. I got a feeling that they were as excited as I was, and that they were learning about their own history, just the same as I was learning about mine. 

After a half hour or so of discussion, we loaded into a van and toured various areas of the factory, including the oldest building on the property, which had been used as a smelter when my grandfather was there, and would have been one of the places where he had worked. The concrete was old and worn, and several of the cave-like concrete rooms were burned black on the ceilings.

We also visited a pier where metals had been unloaded during the war, and this without question, would have been a place where my grandfather was at the time, as the old concrete dock sits right where it always has.  I could picture his eighty pound frame walking through the gate as he must have hundreds of times before, and bent over to pick up a stone that he probably stepped on and slipped it in my pocket. 

Nineteen POWs died while working at the factory from causes including disease, malnourishment and other causes. My brother Steve and I laid flowers at a memorial on the site for those who died. 

                               

Later, we drove to the site where he stood on what used to be the beach (using coordinates from a 1945 map of the location). It was amazing to be in the place where he looked up and saw food falling from the sky, and knew for the first time in years that he would live. He would go home.

 
         

Spot where POW barracks once stood and where Carl Ruse waved to a US plane
(Picture taken by a US plane right after the war shows POW barracks)

The visit to Ishihara Sangyo was a very respectful and affable one, and there was no attempt to deny what happened there. 

This evening, a segment was aired on a local evening news program about our visit.  It was our hope that someone might recognize the boy’s photo, but even if this did not happen, it was gratifying to see a POW’s story aired on Japanese television. 

November 12th, 2010

Today was our last full day in Japan. We had the day free to travel around and see some sites, but after the week we had, and the long flight coming up, we came back to the hotel around 4:00PM and I had a message; a tip had been called in and someone had said that they believed that the "boy" might be his late brother. Someone had recognized the story, and the photo when they saw the evening news.

With no one to call or any way to effectively follow up, my brother and I took a taxi to the Nanzan School to see what we could find out, knowing that we were flying out the next morning.  We arrived at the school at about 5:00PM, and knocked on the principal's door, and Mr. Kumagawa was called. We went to a small office nearby, and Mr. Kumagawa searched for a student to translate for him. Clearly he knew that we had gotten the message as he managed to say; "Someone wants to meet with you. They will be at your hotel at six o'clock, and I would like it if you would ride with me."

The next time we stepped out of the room, to our surprise, the journalists who had been with us previously at Ishihara had returned. When we arrived at the hotel, we were walked to a room, and our translator had been called back in. There were 4-5 cameras, and several journalists already there. We sat down and an older Japanese man came in with his wife, and we were introduced to Mr. Fumio Nishiwaki. We greeted each other and sat down adjacent to each other.       

Then, through the translator, Mr. Kumagawa explained what had happened that day; "This morning I received a message from someone who had seen the news clip yesterday. I had a class, so I did not immediately receive the message, but later called him back. Mr. Nishiwaki's older brother worked at Ishihara Sangyo as a young boy. He remembers his brother describing working in a smelter, and talking about working with POWs." "His brother had also once told him about giving food to a prisoner."

At this point, I was just about certain that I was sitting with the brother of the man we had been searching for, but we wanted to see a photo of the brother. Then we discovered that the man was deceased. He had passed away at the age of thirty. We asked if they had the photo, and the only one that the brother still had was when he was several (maybe ten) years older. The photo looked similar, but it was difficult to be sure since the photo was so much older.   
     

                    
                                    
With Mr. and Mrs.  Nishiwaki and Nanzan students

The discussion and interviews went on for over two hours. We discovered the boy's name, and the more we learned, the more likely it was that it was he had helped our Grandfather. Either way, it was a great experience. Then, we learned that the man's brother's wife was still living.          

His widow still lived in the mountains above Yokkaichi, but would not have been able to travel to Nagoya, and our flight was leaving in the morning.

The next morning, we said goodbye in the hotel lobby, and the man walked up and said that he had been able to speak to his brother's wife. She had been shown the photo from the newspaper and he seemed in a hurry to tell me; she was sure it was a picture of her husband.

As we walked to the taxi with our suitcases, the last thing the man said to me was that he was on his way home to Yokkaichi, and he was going to go to the cemetery.  He wanted to tell his brother that we had met.

Throughout our trip to Japan we were surprised and pleased by the friendliness, generosity and hospitality of all of our hosts.  I was honored to be invited to speak at the Nanzan school, and pleased that the school was teaching their students about this period of their local and national history.  I now have many Japanese friends that I am proud to know.  Our hosts at Ishihara Sangyo were gracious with their time, and in allowing us to visit their company.  The staff there was genuinely interested in our visit and search, and on an individual level, made us feel very welcome and respected.  I believe that POWs are owed a debt that cannot be repaid, and that one of the ways that we can acknowledge this debt is by honoring their memory in future generations.  I was very pleased to see that the Japanese people took a genuine interest in our story, and understood the common aspects of our national history, and their own. 

Our search for the boy who played a role in my Grandfather’s story would never have been the success that it was were it not for the genuine interest and hospitality of the Japanese people.  They made a very rich experience and lifelong memory a possibility, and walking the ground there gave me an even greater sense of appreciation for the extraordinary circumstances that POWs endured.
 


Young Timothy with his grandfather
                           

*Photos courtesy of Nanzan School for those taken at  their School


Letter from Mr. Hiroshi Kimura of Ishihara Sangyo

Thank you very much for visiting our company during your busy schedule today.  Thank you also for you kind note.

We were so moved by seeing Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Ruse and his brother overcome with emotion as they stood at the very spot where their grandfather had stood in the picture. 

Our company was established 90 years ago and our employees are proud of its long history. The POW forced labor, although it took place during the war, was one of the dark episodes in the past. But facing the history through exchanges such as the one we had today is valuable experience for us that gives us vital guidance for the future. It is we who should be thanking all of you for visiting us.  

We sincerely hope that there will be new information on the boy. We will continue to do our very best to try to find more information on him. Please convey our best regards to the three guests. We wish them the very best during their remaining days in Japan.

Hiroshi Kimura
            General Manager, General Affairs Division
            Ishihara Sangyo, Yokkaichi Plant


* Please also visit Timothy's blog. "We Volunteered."