Published September 17, 2010
TOKYO – TOKYO (AP) — Six former U.S. POWs ended their first official trip to Japan on Friday with government recognition of the often brutal treatment they suffered during World War II but no apology from the companies that forced them to work in factories and coal mines.
Lester Tenney, the 90-year-old leader of the group, said that while he was pleased the government had apologized for their plight, he was disappointed by the silence of the corporations that forced them to work under inhumane conditions.
"Sixty-five years ago I was released from prison camp. I became a free man," Tenney said. "I began a search for justice. I wanted an apology for the way I was treated. We need an apology."
Tenney, of Carlsbad, California, said he believed the companies — including Mitsui Mining Co., now Nippon Coke and Engineering Co., and some other large corporations that continue to thrive — are waiting for the aging POWs to die so that the issue will be forgotten.
"We are old people," he said. "We do not have a lot of time to wait. They are not showing their honor by keeping quiet."
Shortly after their arrival in Japan this week, the group was received by Japan's foreign minister, who offered his "deep, heartfelt apology for the inhuman treatment" they suffered.
Tenney said he has received no reply to requests for meetings with Mitsui, Nippon Steel, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and other companies. More than 60 firms used POWs to fill labor shortages caused by Japan's mobilization for the war.
The companies have had no public comment on the visit.
The six POWs, their relatives and the daughters of two men who died, are the first group of American prisoners to visit Japan with government sponsorship, though groups from other countries have been invited previously.
Tenney, who survived the Bataan Death March in 1942, worked for years to realize the trip, which the government said it hoped would lead to reconciliation.
Japan surrendered in 1945 after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese leaders have apologized for the country's militarist past many times, but the government contends that all reparations issues were settled by treaties after the war.
Japanese courts have also ruled that reparations issues must be dealt with on a country-to-country basis, but cases challenging that are pending in several courts.
Tenney was taken prisoner in 1942 by the Japanese military and forced along with 78,000 prisoners of war — 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos — to walk from the Bataan peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon to a prison camp. As many as 11,000 died during what became known as the Bataan Death March.
He said he was forced to work in a mine for 12 hours a day, beaten regularly and not properly fed while he was imprisoned.
Tenney taught accounting and finance at San Diego State and Arizona State universities after the war. He now lives near San Diego.