Ex-POWS touring Japan disappointed at not receiving apologies from firms over slave labor

Six former U.S. soldiers taken prisoners of war in the Philippines by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II have failed to receive apologies from private industries that used them as slave labor.

The former POWs are currently touring Japan with their families on a visitation program sponsored by the Japanese government. While they praised the reception from some of the Japanese companies they visited, they were disappointed that none offered words of apology and insist that post-war bitterness will linger until apologies are made.

Edward Jackfert, 88, was a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps at the time of his capture on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines in May 1942. He was transferred to Japan, where he was forced into labor, packing ammonium nitrate -- used to make explosives -- into containers for chemical engineering firm Showa Denko and loading and unloading sacks of rice for Mitsui Futo by the pier. He suffered violence at the hands of his supervisors, and his weight, which had been around 60 kilograms, plunged to about 45.

On Sept. 14, Jackfert visited a Showa Denko factory in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. According to sources who were involved in the visit, Jackfert met with Showa Denko's administrative manager and asked that higher-ups in the company be informed of the former POWs' wish for an apology, not financial compensation, to liberate those who still suffer from painful memories and promote reconciliation between the two countries. The company representative promised to deliver the message. Jackfert also toured the factory grounds.

Jackfert, who says he has been waiting to hear the words "I'm sorry" for the past 65 years, remained positive about Showa Denko's reception, saying that he hoped his visit will prove to be a launching pad from which to enhance further goodwill between the two countries.

Meanwhile, representatives at Mitsui Futo (now a subsidiary of Taiheiyo Cement Corp.) where Jackfert was also forced into labor, refused to meet with the former POW on Sept. 14.

Beginning in 1999, former POWs in the U.S. filed lawsuits against Japanese companies seeking compensation and apologies. The plaintiffs lost their case when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the right to damages had been waived with the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951.

Former POWs have sought action by the Nippon Keidanren, arguing that companies have a moral responsibility to apologize, but to no avail. A representative of one company in question told the Mainichi that the company was avoiding making any comments lest they lead to compensation claims.

The former POWs who on Sept. 16 visited Ryozen Kannon Shrine in Kyoto -- where fallen soldiers from around the world are memorialized -- will speak at a press conference in Tokyo on Sept. 17.

 (Mainichi Japan) September 17, 2010