This week nine US Army and Marine Corps World War II veterans who are former prisoners of war, including two Bataan Campaign veterans, arrived in Japan as guests of the Japanese government.
The visit, from 11-18 October 2015, is the sixth such visit by former POWs to the homeland of their WWII Imperial Japanese captors . The visits represent an effort at reconciliation between the former POWs and Japan after the brutal treatment the men experienced at the hands of Imperial Japan during the war.
Of the men participating, two are Bataan veterans. Carl Dyer, 91, arrived as a US Army soldier in Manila on 12 May 1941, and served in the 12th Quartermaster Regiment (Philippine Scout) on Bataan, supplying gasoline to the troops. After Bataan surrendered on 9 April 1942, he escaped on a water barge to Corregidor where he was ultimately captured.
Dyer’s stay in the Philippines after the 1941-1942 campaign was brief. On 7 November 1942 he was taken by “Hellship” to Japan, where he was transported to the Osaka area for the duration of the war as a slave laborer on several different projects, from breakwater construction to a graphite factory to a stevedore on docks.
Dyer survived the war and was flown by aircraft to Manila, and later by ship back to the US to spend many months in military hospitals. He was discharged from the Army on 15 March 1946.
The other Bataan veteran, George W. Rogers, 96, arrived in the Philippines on 1 October 1941. On Bataan he served with Company L of the 31st Infantry Regiment (US). He survived the 65-mile Death March. In a 2014 interview he remembered “One hundred and twenty kilometers may not seem too long, but when you’re hungry and (have) no food, no water, that’s a long way, particularly when there’s a bayonet that could end your life if you fell back or fell out of ranks.”
Rogers spent four months at Camp O’Donnell before being moved to Cabanatuan, and recalled in the same 2014 interview “In my mind, it was not hopeless, because I was content that if God wanted me to live, I would,” Rogers said. “He would see to it that I would. All that he expected of me was to wake up every morning, do the best I could, do everything in my power to live that day, and that’s the way I worked. You have to have the will to live in a situation like that. I can’t express enough words … to have you feel what it was like to be in that concentration camp.”
On 17 July 1944 Rogers was taken for voyage by “Hellship” via Formosa to Japan, described as such at the American POWs of Japan web log: “During the 18-day trip with barely any food or clean drinking water, extreme heat, rampant illness — both physical and mental—he said “I almost lost it, and then … I got a peace that came over me, and I just felt everything is going to be alright, just relax,” Rogers said. “As far as I’m concerned, God was at work again.”
After arriving in Japan, he became a slave laborer at the Yawata steel mills in Kyushu. B-29 bombing of Yawata on 8 August 1945 heavily damaged the mills and created fires that created a great amount of smoke that obscured the area, including nearby Kokura, which was the primary target for the second nuclear bomb on 9 August 1945.
As a result, Kokura was spared, and perhaps George Rogers too, though Nagasaki was struck as an alternate target. (Maybe as many as 12 Dutch POWs were killed at Nagasaki – one American POW survived the blast, Army soldier Joe Kieyoomia, a Navajo from New Mexico, Bataan veteran and Death March survivor from the 200th Coastal Artillery.) Rogers survived the war, his 6 foot 3-inch frame worn down to a mere 85 pounds. Doctors didn’t expect him to live past age 45 to 50, but he beat the odds and is now in Japan on this visit.
Of the other men on this journey, four are “China Marines” captured in China at the outbreak of the war, one soldier and Marine who were captured on Corregidor and one Army Airman captured in Java. Emotions about being in Japan 70 years after the war ended varied among the men.
The visit started with a visit to the Commonwealth War Graves in Yokohama, Japan, as seen in this brief video in which George Rogers and another former POW had a chance to speak:
Former POWs Attend Memorial In Japan (AP)
On Wednesday, 14 October 2015, in Tokyo, there will be an open dialogue meeting with the nine former POWs at 6:30pm at Temple University, Japan Campus, Mita Hall, 4-1-27 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 5th Floor.
What kind of outcome from this goodwill gesture is hard to measure, as every man had a different experience. Whether reconciliation and/or forgiveness takes place is a decision each will make as they meet with Japanese government representatives (and perhaps some from pertinent Japanese industries), if they haven’t already, or if they will at some point, if at all. But at long last it appears that the Japanese government is trying to reach out to some of the people, including Bataan Campaign veterans, who survived the time of their brutal captivity at the hands of Imperial Japan.
These nine men represent the men, and some women, who became POWs during the war, including those who survived their captivity and all too many of those who did not. We salute them, and wish them the best on what must be a deeply emotional experience this week in a peaceful Japan.
Yamaguchi Mari, “Former American POWs visit Japan, recount memories,” published 12 October 2015, online at: http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/former-american-pows-visit-japan-recount-memories-1.372911
“Sixth American POW Delegation to Japan,” American POWs of Japan website, published 12 October 2015, at: http://americanpowsofjapan.blogspot.com/2015/10/sixth-american-pow-delegation-to-japan.html
Mitchell, Greg, “Hidden History: American POWS Were Killed in Hiroshima,” published 5 August 2011, online at: http://www.thenation.com/article/hidden-history-american-pows-were-killed-hiroshima/
Brown, Emily, “Overcoming the odds: World War II veteran horrors of war and God’s protection over him,” published 4 November 2014, at: https://www.liberty.edu/champion/2014/11/overcoming-the-odds/
‘There are no hard feelings to our captors’: Former American POWS visit Japan to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II,” UK Daily Mail, published 12 October 2015, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3269471/There-no-hard-feelings-captors-Former-American-POWS-visit-Japan-mark-70th-anniversary-end-World-War-II.html
“Joe Kieyoomia,” Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Kieyoomia