A SURVIVOR of World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March, Dr. Lester Tenney endured over three years of slave labor as a Japanese prisoner of war, with no word from home. “I would have been so happy to get a package of any kind,” Dr. Tenney said. “I wouldn’t have cared what was in it — just the fact that someone would think of me and send something. Oh Lord, that would have been exciting!”
Ninety-year old Dr. Tenney spearheads an effort in his retirement community to send care packages to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nonprofit group he created, Care Packages from Home sends out 200 packages a month to the troops. A local San Diego TV station even featured his effort, see HERE.
What the Times article does not say, is that the Japanese military and Mitsui Mining, the company that purchased Dr. Tenney to mine coal, withheld their Red Cross boxes and letters from home. From the Bataan Death March to the Hell Ship to slave labor, there was not one minute of mercy from the Japanese to Lester Tenney and his fellow American prisoners.
Also unstated, is that the U.S. government essentially abandoned Dr. Tenney and his fellow POWs in all their efforts for justice. The San Francisco Peace Treaty cut off the POWs from suing for their slave labor wages. In 2003, the U.S. government successfully confirmed in the Supreme Court that the POWs could not sue individual Japanese companies. Worse, the U.S. Congress cannot find its way to offer token compensation to the POWs as have all other Allied nations for their POWs.
Although this has been a momentous year of Japanese officials making never-before conciliatory gestures to the American POWs, the Obama Administration and the U.S. State Department has done little to capitalize on these efforts. In January, then-Prime Minister Aso gave in to evidence found in the Health and Welfare Ministry basement that his family's mining company did use POWs for forced labor. Buried deep in the records of a February Diet discussion is the Japanese government's first ever official apology to all POWs. And no where on any official website or document in English or Japanese can be found the Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Fujisaki's May rewording of the 1995 Murayama Apology to include American POWs of Bataan and Corregidor and "other places."
"Other places" are the hundreds of POW camps through out the Empire of Japan. The best know was Mukden where General Jonathan Wainwright was held and American POWs were likely experimented on at the nearby notorious biological warfare laboratory Unit 731.
Dr. Tenney still wants justice and peace of mind for himself and his fellow POWs before the last of them die. He wants closure and understanding from their families and loved ones. He wants the Japanese government to accept the apologies given by its representative by publicizing these statements and including the American POWs in the long-standing Peace, Friendship and Exchange Initiative that funds visits, research, and projects for all POWs of Japan except Americans.
And he would like the over 60 Japanese companies that enslaved the POWs to run Japan's war machine to offer an apology. All these companies are now major multinationals. Indeed, the former head of Mitsui's Washington office, who spent a lot of his time fighting Dr. Tenney's lawsuit, is now rumored to be a possible pick to be Japan's next ambassador to the U.S.
Considering that the difficulties now exposed between the U.S. and Japan are all the result of unresolved history issues, both governments should welcome a larger project of exchange, research, and reconciliation on the Pacific War. It is unfortunate that the Alliance Managers in the State Department are not imaginative to see the opportunity.
For now they simply tell Dr. Tenney they feel his pain. Do they know he bears countless scares from beatings, lost all his teeth, and has a deep gash on his should from samurai sword? And like all other POWs of the Japanese he still cannot sleep through the night for his rest is disturbed by vivid nighmares. Studies have found that the former POWs of Japan suffer the worst PTSD of any WWII veteran.
Dr. Tenney, tells me, to be more optimistic. He is used to disappointment and the disingenuous. He never loses hope and he uses his sleepless nights for good. The American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan most certainly are better for it.