"US-Japan Dialogue on POWs"  Enters into its 4th Year

Greetings from Kinue Tokudome and Yuka Ibuki
January 1, 2008

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.

Kinue's story

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.
If I were to go to Japan and talk with Japanese young people about what happened, I think I could do it in a wonderful way. I would like to tell them that they donít have to be ashamed of the past. This is a life. Now we have to learn from these things and we have to move on.

I decided then and there that I would make every effort to help Dr. Tenney reach out to Japanese people.

Later that year, Dr. Tenney and many other former Prisoners of War of the Japanese filed lawsuits in the US courts against Japanese companies that enslaved them during WWII.

I accompanied Dr. Tenney in December of 1999 when he returned to Omuta, Japan, where he had been forced to work for Mitsui Coalmine during WWII.

(Dr. Tenney during his return visit to Omuta: His wife Betty, son Glen, Japanese son Toru Tasaka and his wife Sumiko, and Kinue joined.) 

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. 

Yuka's story

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 UK.

(excerpt from Dr. Tenney's speech)

Dear Lord, we are gathered here today to pay tribute to the soldiers, sailors and marines who served their countries honorably, and died a needless death, at the peak of their lives. And the greatest honor we can pay to our fallen comrades, is our being here today, acknowledging the Hell they went through during the short-lived Japanese victory of WW II. Today, like many days during the past 57 years, we remember the suffering each of you went through before joining your maker...

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...

You have walked with God down this lonely path, you are the men who have pleased God, therefore you are not forgotten, you are with us in our hearts and our memories. 

Dr. Tenney at British Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama, Japan

I started talking with him through the Internet, and asked for his permission of using his story as material for my English course students at a girlís high school. The girls were shocked, but everyone made great effort to send a letter to Dr. Tenney in the school computer room. He responded to each of the 25 students, saying how glad he was to talk to her.

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."

At 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. 

It was introduced in a magazine Chuo-Koron last August, by a curator of the Sakura Museum of History, which is the only national museum concerned about Japanese war in China and the Pacific.

Memorable moments

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.

Dr. Tenney's speech to a group of Japanese Diet members (March 18, 2003)

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.

In 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. 
  Yuka at camp O'Donnell site

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.

Former 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                                                                                                        

Dr. Tenney's letter to Ambassador Schieffer asking for assistance

As our website enters into its fourth year, we would like to thank all the people who supported us and encouraged us. Many of them are our dear friends while many others are anonymous visitors to our website. We hope that they, too, have developed a very special friendship with former POWs of the Japanese whose stories we so wanted to tell.

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 appreciate their complete trust on our website project and what we try to achieve through it. 

Dorothy and Clay with President Bush and First Lady

We hope our website will continue to be a place for friendship and dialogue.