"US-Japan Dialogue on POWs"
Enters into its 4th
Our website, US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, has entered into its fourth year. Since it was launched in November of 2004, it has been accessed almost 100,000 times.
From the very beginning, our project has always been about friendship and dialogue.
I first interviewed Dr. Lester Tenney, a former POW of the Japanese who survived the Bataan Death March and forced labor at Mitsui Coalmine, in the spring of 1999 when I was writing an article on the Nagasaki Atomic bomb. In his memoir, My Hitch in Hell, he wrote about his having witnessed the mushroom cloud of the Nagasaki bomb.
But I was truly impressed by Dr. Tenney's following words:
I donít hate the Japanese. You canít keep hating people
because it hurts you. Young people in Japan are not responsible for
what happened during the war.
I decided then and there that I
would make every effort to help Dr. Tenney reach out to Japanese people.
Over the next several years I wrote articles about the POW lawsuits for Japanese publications. However, my original desire of wanting to help Dr. Tenney share his POW story with Japanese people remained the same.
I met Dr. Tenney in 2000 at the British Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama, Japan. Buried in this cemetery were about 1700 British Commonwealth officers and soldiers who died in POW camps in Japan. There are also ashes of 48 American and 21 Dutch POWs memorialized in a shrine in the cemetery. Dr. Tenney was invited to give a speech for an annual memorial service held by a Japanese civic group.
I was so impressed by this
former POW, who came over to talk his experience to Japanese people, as I had
met cold refusal by former POWs and the descendants in
I have learned something
today, as we stand here, surrounded by so many concerned people, we are all one
family, all interested and caring, all prepared and ready to deal with events of
great importance to every person around the world. We can accomplish that which
we pursue because we care, we are willing to reach out, and we are unified in
our beliefs and our prayers...
As this communication was such a great experience for everyone involved, in 2001, I invited Dr. Tenney and Betty to Japan, using the money I inherited from my mother, which I wanted to spend for something wonderful.
With assistance of professors, teachers and other friends, I could organize 13 lectures in 11 schools, elementary to graduate course levels. Dr. Tenney came equipped with his heart-warming and humorous magic show, which attracted and opened the hearts of young people. They laughed, shed tears, and loved Dr. Tenney and Betty, listening to his experience of horror, loss of dear friends, and physical brutality. He said, "You don't have to say sorry for what I went through, but you are responsible for your future."
this occasion, Dr. Tenney gave me his book, My Hitch in Hell; the Bataan
Death March. I realized he hadn't told us the most cruel part of his
experience. Three friends of mine agreed to work with me, and we translated the
book, managed to find a small but conscientious publisher, and Dr. Tenney's book
was published in Japanese in 2003. This was the first time that experiences of
an ordinary man, a former POW held under the Japanese, was available for
Japanese society in their language.
When Dr. Tenney's memoir was
published in Japan in 2003, we helped organize a reception where he shared his
thoughts with a group of Japanese Diet members. Listening to his speech on that
occasion was one of our proudest moments.
By 2004, we met many more former POWs and learned about their POW experiences. Each story was unique and moving. We wanted to tell their personal stories to Japanese people. We wanted to give human faces to the history of American POWs of the Japanese. Our website was launched.
January of 2006, we joined four former POWs and about 40 children of POWs to trace the footsteps of American POWs of the
Japanese in the Philippines. We visited places like Bataan, Corregidor,
Clark Field, Camp O'Donnell, Camp Cabanatuan and Bilibid Prison. It
was such a profound experience for us to actually visit places that we had heard
about so many times from our former POW friends. We
were the only Japanese who were present at the dedication ceremony of the Hellships
Memorial in Subic Bay.
Nothing made us happier than being able to help former POWs, be it accompanying them to their former POW campsites in Japan, or informing them of POW-related news through our website. We also helped many dialogues get started.
One thing both of us sincerely hope is for our former POW friends to receive a sincere apology from our government, the Japanese government, and those Japanese companies that enslaved them. We know how much they want to hear an apology such as the one offered by German President Johannes Rau to Nazi slave/forced labor victims in 1999.
I know that for many it is
not really the money that matters. What they want is for their suffering to be
recognized as suffering and for the injustice done to them to be named
injustice. I pay tribute to all those who were subjected to slave and forced
labor under German rule, and, in the name of the German people, beg
forgiveness. We will not forget their suffering.
POWs are now in their late 80s and 90s. They need to see closure to their
wartime sufferings. We cannot forget the calm yet very determined words of Mr. Edward
Jackfert, twice National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and
Corregidor and our dear friend, "I will fight for justice until the last day of my life." Mr.
Jackfert and Dr.
Tenney, who will become the last National Commander of the ADBC in the spring of 2008, have
been asking for a meeting with Prime Minister Fukuda to receive an apology from
him. Such an apology will be indeed fitting to close their 62 years' of
activities as an organization of former POWs of the Japanese.
Mr. Jackfert and Kinue
We would like to thank former POW Mr. Don Versaw, who taught us the beauty of forgiveness.
Our deepest gratitude goes to Mr. Clay Perkins and his wife, Dorothy.
When Kinue's failed attempt to obtain a grant to start this website almost made
us give up, they rescued it by offering their generous support. They have continued
to support our project while remaining very special friends.
We hope our website will continue to be a place for friendship and dialogue.