Speech for the Philippine
Scouts Heritage Society 22nd Annual Reunion
Frederic Foz, Senator
Ms. Concepcion Rael, officers and chapter presidents of the Philippine Scouts
Heritage Society, and ladies and gentlemen, Good evening.
Col. Melvin Rosen has been a very special friend of mine for many years. When he first asked me to be a keynote speaker for this occasion, I was totally at a loss.
I have heard many times from my former POW friends how brave and heroic the Philippine Scouts were in the defense of the Philippines. They have nothing but praise for your comrades. For example, my good friend Mr. Lester Tenney of 192nd Tank Battalion wrote in his book, My Hitch in Hell, about his fight in Lingayen Gulf.
"Our counterparts that day, the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, joined our platoon as we headed in to battle. The Philippine Scouts were strong well-disciplined, highly professorial, and courageous groups of dedicated fighters. They were rough and tough cavalry men; we were proud to be in battle with them."
I asked myself, “What could I possibly say that would be worthy of sharing with such a proud group of people?”
On the other hand, how could I say no to my dear friend Col. Rosen, who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, notorious POW camps, forced labor and the unspeakable suffering on Hellships, all at the hands of my own country?
Soon I reached my conclusion—I can speak about my personal experience that eventually led to my standing before you tonight.
So let me start…In the fall of 1997, a professor from my alma mater, Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, came to Los Angeles and a small group of alumni held a welcome reception for this professor—Professor Tsuyoshi Amemiya.
I was fortunate to sit next to him and was fascinated to hear about the project he had been doing for almost ten years by then. Professor Amemiya had been bringing his students to the Philippines every year so that they could learn first hand what their grandfather’s generation did in the Philippines during World War II.
He told me that his students traced the route of the Bataan Death March, visited former POW campsites, and met Filipino veterans. They read their “Statement of Peace and Reconciliation” as they traveled throughout the Philippines.
Since that first meeting, Professor Amemiya and I stayed in touch. He continued sending me his reports on the Philippine tour as he brought his students to the Philippines each year.
In the report on the trip in 2000, he wrote about their visit to the town of Tipas in Taguig city. Before their visit, he received a letter from the former Mayor of Taguig, Mr. Downolt Estacio. Mr. Estacio wrote to Professor Amemiya the following:
"You mentioned in your letter that 'you want to learn what atrocities were committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines during the war, directly from those living witness who still remember.' I am 67 years old and I do vividly remember what happened in Tipas, particularly to my family on December 1, 1944.
I was 11 years old…At 2:30 in the morning the stillness of the night was broken by the rambling of (Japanese) tanks. It wasn’t hard to realize the gravity of their intentions in rounding up the “guerillas” in Tipas. Almost all men of Tipas and even some women suspected of giving aid to the guerillas were all herded in the plaza and everyone was made to face their “magic eyes”.
By afternoon, they had separated about half of the men, including the Mayor of Taguig and almost all the professional leaders of government and business.
More than 500 of the good citizens of Tipas plus 3 women were dumped in their trucks, because many of the men were no longer able to walk due to punishments and brutalities suffered the whole day— (water torture), whipping while hanged. I know because my eldest brother, then 22 years old and just married 9 months before the day, was whipped and lashed while hanging upside down from a tree.
They were brought to Fort Santiago—at a dungeon down below water level—and left to die at high tide…"
Mr. Estacio also wrote the following in his letter to Professor Amemiya.
"But I and many in Tipas can now sincerely say that forgiveness and understanding are now deep in our hearts because of people like you and all your efforts towards peace and reconciliation. Thank God for people like you and your students."
And when Professor Amemiya and his students finally arrived one month later, they were warmly welcomed by the people of Taguig. I would like to share some excerpts from the statement that the students read to the people of Taguig.
"We are here today in your presence with a sincere desire to establish a true, lasting friendship with you. Before we left home, we spent much time trying to know what had happened between the Philippines and Japan, which we thought would be very important before we become friends. Our findings were shocking to us indeed. We were heart-broken when we thought of all the hardship that you had to go through during the war…
Up until today, the Japanese government has failed to make an official apology to Asian neighbors for our wartime crimes. As a result, the young generation is quite ignorant of Japan’s aggression...
We do not have such a big power as to change the world overnight, but there must be at least something each of us can do. While we are with you here, we would like to learn from you as much as possible, whereby we hope to find an answer to the question: how we should live together as friends and neighbors. When we go home, we will share with our friends all that we have learned from you.
It is our great privilege to visit the Philippines…We humbly admit our mistakes of yesterday and today, and at the same time we vow to you that the same mistakes will not be repeated. It is our sincere hope that this humble statement will contribute in its own small way to peace and reconciliation between the Philippines and Japan."
I should also mention that this statement and the news of the Japanese students being welcomed by the people in Taguig appeared in Sunday Inquirer Magazine of the Philippines a few weeks following their visit.
So this is how Professor Amemiya taught me that one person can make a difference. Under his program, hundreds of young Japanese students visited the Philippines and tried to reach out, in a humble manner, to the people who were once victimized by their grandfather’s generation.
Some of these students even decided to work on this issue after their graduation. Naoko Jin, a determined young lady, is now working on a project of delivering messages from former Imperial Japanese soldiers to Filipino veterans in the hopes that such message would ease some of the pains that many Filipino people still feel. Recently, she wrote to me the following:
"I was born in 1978, but do not think that my life can be separated from the past. I cannot be blind to what the Japanese military did. I returned to the Philippines last October with the video tape of my interviews with former Japanese soldiers, and showed them at more than 20 towns and villages in the Philippines.
There are many Japanese young people around me who support my project. Although Japan, as a nation, has not been forthcoming in its dealing with the wartime history, I see more young Japanese people wanting to establish trusting relationships with other countries based on the true understanding of history."
Naoko followed Professor Amemiya’s advice: Act! Try to make a difference.
Therefore, 18 months ago I acted. I took action by starting a bilingual website, US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, to promote understanding and dialogue on the history of American POWs of the Japanese. It can be read in both English and Japanese.
I tried to inform my fellow Japanese people what American POWs went through at the hands of our military by presenting their personal stories. I wanted to give their stories human faces and human voices so that today’s Japanese people can see clearly that the POW abuse by the Japanese military happened to real human beings just like themselves.
I have been extremely blessed to have the opportunity to interview many former POWs. Every time I met one of them, I learned anew. One interview is worth reading a dozen books because I can see their faces, hear their voices, and yes feel their pain. I want visitors to my website to have the same experience that I had when I met each individual former POW—Their sharing with me their memories, their struggle to come to terms with the past, their sadness, anger, frustration, their pride and hope, and many times their willingness to forgive.
Among your members, Col. Rosen and Col. John Olson are on my website. I hope you will find the time to read their pages.
When I interviewed Col. Olson a few months ago, he gave me the opportunity to learn about the Philippine Scouts. Soon, I realized that at many of the battles that I had been hearing about, you were there, too.
You were at Lingayen, Battle of Abucay, Battle of the Points, and of course you walked the Bataan Death March and were interned at what Col. Olson called “Andersonville of the Pacific”—Camp O’Donnell.
I am still learning about your stories. I found out that the same atrocities that happened to the people in Tipas also happened to some of the members of the Philippine Scouts.
Please tell me more. Send your stories so that I can introduce them on my website. Your stories will broaden the understanding of people like Naoko. That way, you can make a difference. Knowledge is power. I used to be very unhappy that not many people in my country knew about the history of POWs. But I now know that instead of being just unhappy, I should act to make a difference. And you are the ones who can help me and many more Japanese people make a difference.
The history, heritage and legacy of the Philippine Scouts should be known to Japanese people also.
do my best to tell them your stories so that I will not be the first and the
last Japanese person to attend your reunion.