Wednesday, May 17, 2017

President Trump recognizes American POW of Japan - True Grit


For over six minutes of his 30 minute speech, US President Donald Trump recognized George Rogers, a former POW of Japan who had survived the Bataan Death March, a hell ship to Japan, and slave labor at the Yawata Steel Mill.

In 2015, at 95, returned to Japan as a guest of the government as part of the 6th POW Friendship program.

George grew up in St Louis, Missouri and enlisted in the U.S. Army August 20, 1941, at Jefferson Barracks. He arrived on the Philippines October 1, 1941 and was assigned to 4th Chemical Company. At first a clerk/typist at Fort McKinley, he was soon fighting in the defense of Bataan with L Company of the 31st Infantry Regiment (US) after Japan’s December 8 invasion. Throughout the campaign, American forces were short of food, ammunition, and reinforcements against the better equipped and trained Japanese.

Bataan was surrendered on April 9, 1942, and most of the nearly 80,000 American and Filipino troops on the peninsula were forced on the infamous Bataan Death March. George endured the 65-mile trek up the Bataan Peninsula experiencing starvation, exhaustion, and beatings while witnessing merciless abuse, murders, and torture. At their destination, Camp O’Donnell, 1,500 Americans died in the first four months from disease, lack of food, and lack of hope. He was busy as a gravedigger.

In August 1942, he was moved to Cabanatuan #3 to farm rice and vegetables as well as forced labor building an airfield. On top of the beatings he received from the camp guards, George and his fellow soldiers suffered through extreme pain in their feet and legs due primarily to dry or wet beriberi, a disease affecting the nerves and muscles. He also survived malaria and spent six months quarantined for what was thought to be amoebic dysentery.

On July 17, 1944, he was one of 1541 POWs taken to Japan via Formosa in the hold of the Hellship Nissyo Maru. 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 at the port of Moji, Japan, he was sent to POW Camp Fukuoka 3-B Yawata Japan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd. (Nippon Seitetsu; today’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation) to work in the Yawata steel mill for the rest of the war. Yawata featured Japan’s first blast furnace and was one the Empire’s most important armament makers. It was the primary target for the second atomic bomb. Cloud cover from aerial bombing on August 8, 1945, however, prevented this. The conventional bombing did succeed in destroying the mill's key production facilities and ended prisoner work at the mill shortly before the war ended.

In July 2015, the Yawata Mill was given UNESCO World Industrial Heritage status, albeit without mention of the hundreds of POW slave laborers—American, British, Australian, Dutch, Portuguese, Jamaican, Indian, Malay, Chinese, and Arabians at the site. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had visited the facilities of Yawata Steel Works in July 2014, to encourage the UNESCO application. Again without acknowledgement of the multi-national labor force that keep the mill going during the war.

On August 15, 1945, the camp commander announced that the war had ended and the guards disappeared. The camp was liberated on September 13th. George returned to the U.S. a gaunt, 6-foot-3, 85 pounds. Military doctors told him that it was unlikely that he would live past 45 or 50, keep his teeth, or have children. Today at 98, he retains his teeth, has five children, and displays “a contagious joy.”

George used the G.I. Bill to obtain an accounting degree from St. Louis University. Starting in 1973, he became the CFO for Reverend Jerry Falwell (founder of the Moral Majority) overseeing his Old Time Gospel Hour television ministry and the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. He became Liberty University’s vice president of finance and administration in 1999, through to Rev Falwell’s death in 2007.

In 2010, Liberty University named an award in George's honor. The George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award is given annually to a man or woman who served in the United States Armed Forces and went above the call of duty, displaying extraordinary heroism while serving. The award is presented at a Flames football game during Liberty's Military Emphasis Week, held near Veterans Day. A bust of George stands at the gate of Williams Stadium, the home of the Liberty Flames football team, as a tribute to Rogers for his sacrifices. George was married 67 year to Barbara,who passed away August 2015.

President Donald Trump's remarks:

America is better when people put their faith into action. As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what's in your heart.

(APPLAUSE)

We will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings. America is beginning a new chapter. Today, each of you begins a new chapter as well. When your story goes from here, it will be defined by your vision, your perseverance and your grit. That's a word Jim Kelly knows very well, your grit.

In this, I'm reminded of another man you know very well and who has joined us here today. His name is George Rogers, Liberty University CFO and vice president for a quarter of a century. During World War II, George spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war. He saw many of his fellow soldiers die during the Bataan death march. He was the victim of starvation and torture as a prisoner of war. When he was finally set free he weighed just 85 pounds and was told he would not live past the age of 40. Today, George is 98 years old.

(APPLAUSE)

Great. That's so great, George.

If anyone ever had reason to quit, to give in to the bitterness and anger that we all face at some point, to lose hope in God's vision for his life, it was indeed George Rogers. But that's not what he did. He stood up for his country, he stood up for his community. He stood up for his family and he defended civilization against a tide of barbarity, the kind of barbarity we're seeing today and we've been witnessing over the last number of years.

And I just want to tell you, as your president, we are doing very, very well in countering it, so you just hang in there. Things are going along very, very well. You'll be hearing a lot about it next week from our generals. Things are going along very, very well.


(APPLAUSE)

Through it all, he kept his faith in God, even in the darkest depths of despair. Like so many others of his generation, George came home to a nation full of optimism and pride and began to live out the American dream. He started a family, he discovered God's plan for him and pursued that vision with all his might, pouring his passion into a tiny college in a place called Lynchburg, Virginia.

Did you ever hear of that? Lynchburg? We love it. Do you like it? We like it, right? I flew over it a little while ago. It's amazing, actually.

What started as a dream with a few good friends he helped shepherd into the largest Christian university in the world. Just look at this amazing, soaring, growing campus.

And I've been watching it grow because I've been a friend of Liberty for a long time, now, Jerry. It's been a long time.

Thanks in great part George's financial stewardship, hundreds of thousands of young hearts and souls have been enriched at Liberty and inspired by the spirit of God.

George, we thank you and we salute you. And you just stay healthy for a long time, George, thank you.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Appeal to Congress by American POWs of Japan

click to order commemorative mug
The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS), the leading American veterans’ organization for former prisoners of war of Imperial Japan, their families, and historians, submitted testimony for the record on March 22, 2017 to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Joint Hearing To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations. [click to see full testimony]

The ADBC-MS asked Congress to:
  • Adopt a resolution commemorating this year’s annual National Prisoner of War Remembrance Day, April 9th, which is also the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March on the Philippines.
  • Award a Congressional gold medal to the American POWs of Japan, who endured the longest and harshest imprisonment of any WWII POWs.
  • Insist that the Japanese corporations that used POW slave labor during WWII make amends for their war crimes before they are allowed to bid on U.S. high speed rail contracts.
  • Encourage the Government of Japan to turn its POW visitation program into a permanent Future Fund for research, documentation, reconciliation, and people-to-people exchanges.
  • Demand that the Government of Japan refute misrepresentations of POW history in Japan and include the history in its UNESCO Industrial Heritage sites.
  • Ask the Japanese government to create a memorial at the Port of Moji, where most of the “hell ships” delivered their sick, dying, and dead human cargo to Japan.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, the fall of the Philippines, the end of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, and the destruction of the U.S. Far East Air Force. It is estimated that over 300,000 American and Allied POWs and civilian internees were POWs of Imperial Japan. Nearly half died in squalid POW camps, aboard fetid “hell ships,” or as slave laborers for Japanese corporations.

Never again, means never forget.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

NATIONAL FORMER PRISONER OF WAR RECOGNITION DAY, 2017

The Bataan Death March
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 07, 2017

President Donald J. Trump Proclaims April 9, 2017, 
as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day


NATIONAL FORMER PRISONER OF WAR RECOGNITION DAY, 2017

- - - - - - -

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



On National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, America honors our service men and women imprisoned during war. These patriots have moved and inspired our Nation through their unyielding sacrifices and devout allegiance. We honor the strength through adversity of all of these heroes from our Nation's wars and conflicts, from the American Revolution to the World Wars, from Korea to Vietnam, from Desert Storm to the War on Terror.

American service members serve and fight selflessly each day to secure the freedoms we often take for granted. They bear the full weight of their oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," in which there is no safety clause. None know this so well as our former prisoners of war (POWs). According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than half a million Americans have been captured and interned as POWs since the American Revolution.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. After the surrender of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines on April 9, 1942, Filipino and American soldiers were rounded up and forced to march 60 miles from Mariveles to San Fernando. An estimated 500 Americans died during the march, as they were starved, beaten, and tortured to death. Those who reached San Fernando were taken in cramped boxcars to POW camps, where thousands more Americans died of disease and starvation.

These stories remind us of the great sacrifice and bravery of our men and women in the Armed Forces. Throughout our history, they have risked everything to defend our country. They have been stripped of liberty, and regained it. They have faced the darkness of captivity, and emerged to the warm light of freedom. These victories have no match. These triumphs ignite the flame of liberty deep within their hearts, and in ours, and make America the great Nation it is today.

But in celebrating those POWs who returned from captivity, we also solemnly remember and honor those who died in captivity. They paid the ultimate price for their love of country.

As President, I am committed to providing our veterans, and especially our former POWs, with the support, care, and resources they deserve. Our country owes a debt to our heroes that we can never adequately repay, but which we will always honor each day.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 9, 2017, as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. I call upon Americans to observe this day by honoring the service and sacrifice of all our former prisoners of war and to express our Nation's eternal gratitude for their sacrifice. I also call upon Federal, State, and local government officials and organizations to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventh day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.

Bataan Death March survivor will be missed by his Japanese friends

Tokudome and Tenney
Champion for the American POWs of Japan
By Kinue Tokudome, founder and director of US-Japan Dialogue on POWs
Fox News Opinion, April 7, 2017

Dr. Lester Tenney, a Bataan Death March survivor, and I exchanged thousands of emails since we first met in 1999. Initially, I became interested in his POW experience as a Japanese journalist. But it did not take long before I found myself working with him to bring an honorable closure to the history of American POWs of the Japanese. Our emails were always upbeat, discussing what more we could do together.

But in late January, Lester sent me an email that was uncharacteristic of him:

I am on my last trip, travel to a new world. So nice having you as a friend. If I am still alive I will be speaking in front of 200 people on January 27th how forgiveness works wonders. If you could come, it would be the culmination of many good years together.

How could I refuse such a request? So I flew from Japan and joined Lester in Carlsbad, Calif. as he spoke to a local audience.

Towards the end of his speech, Lester called me onto the stage and had me read from a letter he had just received from Mitsubishi Materials. It was a report on memorial plaques that the company had placed last November at four mines where its predecessor enslaved American POWs during WWII. Lester wanted me to read the inscription to the audience. After stating how many American POWs were forced to work and how many died at each mine, the inscription ended with following sentence.

Reflecting on these tragic past events with the deepest sense of remorse, Mitsubishi Materials offers its heartfelt apologies to all former POWs who were forced to work under appalling conditions in the mines of the former Mitsubishi Mining Company, and reaffirms its unswerving resolve to contribute to the creation of a world in which fundamental human rights and justice are fully guaranteed.

Lester had already received an apology from the Japanese government for the inhumane treatment American POWs were subjected to. In 2010, the Japanese Foreign Ministry started a reconciliation program in which it invited former POWs and their families to Japan. They all became possible because of Lester’s tenacity in seeking them. I had the privilege of helping him as he faced many obstacles along the way.

What Mitsubishi Materials wrote on their plaques was what Lester wanted the most and what took him the longest to obtain. It was not from Mitsui Mining that enslaved him, but as a longtime leader of former POWs he was genuinely pleased with Mitsubishi Materials’ sincerity.

As we parted, I said to Lester, “Let’s work harder so we will get apologies from other companies.” That was the last time I saw him. I would go back to Carlsbad to attend the memorial service for Lester a month later.

Lester was among some 27,000 American soldiers who became POWs after the largest surrender in the US military history that took place in the Philippines in the spring of 1942.

Forty percent of them would die while in captivity. Those who were surrendered on April 9, including Lester, were forced to walk what became known as the Bataan Death March. Lester was later sent to Japan and became a forced laborer in Mitsui coalmine.

Of some 12,000 American POWs who were sent to Japan to work for Japanese companies 1,115 died due to harsh working conditions, abuse, diseases and malnutrition. In addition to Mitsui Mine and Mitsubishi Mining, they included internationally known companies like Nippon Steel, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Nippon Express and Nippon Sharyo (now owned by JR Central).

Lester was determined not to let the world forget this tragic chapter of the Pacific War, although he had long forgiven the Japanese. His lawsuit against Mitsui was dismissed as the U.S. court found that POWs’ claims had been waived by the 1951 Peace Treaty.

But since money was not his goal, he did not stop. In fact, it was through his quest for justice and reconciliation that Lester made many Japanese friends. I witnessed Lester and his wife Betty develop a beautiful friendship with Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Mr. Ichiro Fujisaki and Mrs. Fujisaki. He dearly loved the Japanese exchange student who stayed at his home. He spoke to thousands of Japanese young people and enjoyed every opportunity to do so. His memoir was translated into Japanese by a group of English teachers in Japan who listened to his speech and were touched by his humanity.

The only thing I regret was that Lester did not receive much support from his own government. Having read the Mitsubishi Materials’ inscription and realized its significance, I asked the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo if Ambassador (Caroline) Kennedy could attend the unveiling ceremony. After all, there was not a single memorial built by the Japanese government for the American POWs who died in Japan.

But the Embassy told me that not only could Ambassador Kennedy not attend but also it could not send anyone to represent the U.S. government.

It was widely reported that Ambassador Kennedy worked very hard to pave the way for President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima.

Candidate Obama compared his campaign to the Bataan Death March and never apologized. This could have been the opportunity for the Obama administration to pay respect to POWs. And it would have encouraged other companies to come forward.

Shortly before his passing, Lester read a piece in the Washington Post that praised Ambassador Kennedy for her effort for reconciliation. He sent a letter to the paper writing in part:

As the last Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a recognized military organization of former POWs of the Japanese during WWII, I myself as well as our members have been working for reconciliation for many years.

I wish Ambassador Kennedy had supported our effort in seeking reconciliation with those Japanese companies that enslaved us. Most of the companies have not acknowledged their involvement in POW forced labor, much less apologized. So far only one company, Mitsubishi Materials, has come forward and apologized to the American POWs.

I was pleased that Ambassador Kennedy visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and paid respect to the victims of the end of this tragic war. I wish Ms. Kennedy had also paid tribute to those American POWs who died in Japan as forced laborers.

The letter was never published. But Lester would not live his life with bitterness. In our last exchange ten days before his passing we wrote to each other:

As you did so many times when you faced adversities in your life, I am confident that you two remain positive and live in the present and enjoy everything. Love, Kinue

You are right… just another hurdle in my life of living. I must realize I am 96 years old, and that is already way beyond the most. It is the unknown that gets me. Love, Lester

Dr. Lester Tenney will be missed by many Japanese friends he made.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

BATAAN DEATH MARCH 75TH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIONS

Over the next few days, numerous ceremonies will be held to honor the fallen and survivors of the Bataan Death March on its 75th anniversary and National Former POW Recognition Day, April 9th. 

WASHINGTON, DC

75TH COMMEMORATION OF ARAW NG KAGITINGAN [BATAAN AND CORREGIDOR DAY]. 4/7, 3:15-4:30 PM, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Embassy of the Philippines. A wreath laying ceremony at the WWII Memorial at the National Mall. 5:30-7:30pm Commemoration Program at the Romulo Hall of the Embassy of the Philippines. Location: Embassy of the Philippines, 1600 Massachusetts Avenue, NW. Contact: http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org/news/5507/589/75th-Commemoration-of-Araw-ng-Kagitingan-on-07-April-2017/d,phildet/  Information: veterans@philippinesveteransaffairs.org  

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

75TH COMMEMORATION OF ARAW NG KAGITINGAN (DAY OF VALOR). 4/8, 9:00 AM, Chicago, Illinois. Wreath laying ceremony (weather permitting) at the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Bridge at the corner of State Street and Wacker Drive, Chicago to pay tribute to thousands of Filipino and American soldiers who displayed extraordinary gallantry and courage beyond the call of duty in defending Bataan and Corregidor in 1941-1942. After the wreath laying ceremony, a short program will be held around 10:00-11:30 AM at the Kalayaan Hall of the Consulate General of the Philippines, 122 S. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1600, Chicago, Illinois 60603. Contact: http://www.chicagopcg.com/chicagopcg@att.net and http://www.chicagopcg.com/pr16-17.pdf

CALIFORNIA

BATAAN DEATH MARCH 75TH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION. 4/8, 9:00am-Noon, The Presidio, San Francisco, California. 9:00AM Laying of Wreaths at the ABMC WWII West Coast Memorial at Kobbe & Washington Aves. 10:00AM Commemorative Program At Pershing Square/ Presidio Officers Club. Contact: www.bataanlegacy.org; Program http://zif7.r.ah.d.sendibm4.com/zmo9s9vonf.htmland http://usa.inquirer.net/1829/bataan-death-march-75th-year-rites-set-sf-presidio-april-8     

NEW YORK

75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH COMMEMORATION. 4/8, 1:00-4:00 PM. Bataan Road, Orangeburg, New York. Ceremony, concert, presentations. Contact: Jerome Kleiman, https://www.facebook.com/events/1168848923170955/

VIRGINIA

75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH AND UNVEILING THE BEN STEELE COLLECTION. 4/9, 2:00-4:00 PM, Norfolk, VA. Sponsor: MacArthur Memorial. As part of the unveiling, the Memorial will screen the documentary film Survival Through Art. Produced by American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society President and professional filmmaker Jan Thompson and narrated by Alec Baldwin,Survival Through Art tells the story of Ben Steele's remarkable life. Location: MacArthur Memorial Visitors Center, 198 Bank Street, Norfolk, VA 23510. Contact: http://www.macarthurmemorial.org/Calendar.aspx?EID=62&month=1&year=2017&day=12&calType=0 or

6TH ANNUAL BATAAN DEATH MARCH MEMORIAL WALK/RUN.  4/22, 6:00AM-2:00PM, Chesapeake, VA. Sponsored by the SSG Jonathan Killian Dozier Memorial VFW Post 2894 and FilVetRep. Location: Dismal Swamp Canal Trail North Parking Lot, 1113 George Washington Highway South, Chesapeake, VA 23323 Contact: https://www.virginia.org/listings/Events/BataanDeathMarchMemorialWalk/

MINNESOTA

BATAAN MEMORIAL WREATH LAYING CEREMONY. 4/9 10:00 AM, Brained National Guard Training and Community Center, 1115 Wright Street, Brainerd, MN  56401. Mr. Walter Straka, the last surviving member of the Brainerd 34th Tank Company as it began, and A Company 194th Tank Battalion after federalization, will lay the wreath while Taps is played. The names of those who were killed in combat or captivity will be read as their dog tags are hung on the barrel of the M3 Stuart tank. Contact: Captain Chris Bingham (651) 268-8117,http://www.brainerdbataan.com/wreath-laying-ceremony.html ;

20TH ANNUAL BATAAN MEMORIAL MARCH, 9/9, Brainerd, Minnesota.  http://www.brainerdbataan.com/

NEW MEXICO

COMMEMORATIVE CEREMONY HONORING 75TH ANNIVERSARY. 4/9, 4:00-6:00 PM, Las Cruces, NM. Sponsor: The Remember Bataan Foundation of Las Cruces. Location: Veteran’s Memorial Park, 2651 Roadrunner Parkway, Las Cruces.

BATAAN MEMORIAL CEREMONY. 4/8, 1:00 PM, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sponsor: Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico. Location: Bataan Memorial Park, 748 Tulane Drive, NE, Albuquerque. Contact: MAJ Richard A. Luena, USAF-R (Ret.), https://www.facebook.com/events/1763311350552957/

BATAAN MEMORIAL CEREMONY. 4/9, 10:00 AM-2:00 PM, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sponsor: New Mexico National Guard. Location: 200th CAC marker on the southeast side of the Bataan Memorial Building, 407 Galisteo Street, Santa Fe. http://www.bataanmuseum.com/event/nmng-honors-world-war-ii-bataan-veterans-on-75th-anniversary/

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Yawata POW Camp down on its luck


Old age, depopulation decimating A-bomb-spared Kitakyushu
[But there is something missing from this story]


BLOOMBERG/Japan Times, MAR 30, 2017

Few places evoke the rise and fall of Japan’s industrial might than the head office of the Imperial Steel Works in Kitakyushu. The red brick Meiji Era building was the heart of the nation’s first big steelworks. Now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.

[And it was Fukuoka #3 POW camp where over 1,200 Allied POWs from the U.S., UK, Australia, the Netherlands, Java, India, Arabia, Portugal and Malaya slaved. There is no mention of this at the site. Further the Port of Moji in Kitakyushu was where most of the POWs and forced laborers were brought into Japan. Many off the hell ships died on the docks. In addition, Japan's "industrial world heritage" bid was carefully crafted to emphasize Japan's difference from the rest of Asia. It highlights superiority and indigenous inventiveness and underplays technology borrowing and Western investment.]

Kitakyushu, with nearly a million people, embodies the struggle of Japan’s cities to adapt to a future where citizens are older, workers are fewer and many houses are emptying. The emblems of government efforts to revitalize the economy — a billion-dollar airport, a robotics factory — stand beside the empty lots, an idle blast furnace and shuttered shops.

Five hours west of Tokyo by shinkansen, Kitakyushu lost over 15,000 people in the five years to 2015, more than any other city in the country apart from those evacuated because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. More than 100,000 residents have gone since the peak in 1979, and half of the factory jobs have disappeared with them.

Provincial cities are competing for a declining pool of talent, workers and investment to replace vanishing industries. Kitakyushu’s task is especially stark because of the contrast with Fukuoka, an hour’s drive southwest, where efforts to lure entrepreneurs have made it one of the few big cities outside Tokyo whose population is growing.

“I feel like Fukuoka is taking away all the good,” said Masahiro Urabe, 73, who runs a men’s clothing store that his father started on the Yahata Chuo shopping street. Nearby, under a flickering florescent light, is a deserted bar. Urabe says the street used to be filled around the clock with steelworkers coming off shift. “Manufacturing is a tough sell for young people,” he said. “It can’t be helped when the (steel mill) isn’t doing well.”

Kitakyushu, formed by the merger of five towns in 1963, owes its manufacturing roots to the Imperial Yawata Works, which poured its first steel in 1901. Today, the mills are run by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., [never apologized for its use of POW slave labor.] with about 4,200 staff making high-value products such as shinkansen rails. The company declined an interview request.

At its peak, the works had nearly 50,000 people, said Akinori Yamamura, 78, who worked there for four decades. The city was so vital to industry during World War II that it was the original target for the second U.S. atomic bomb, which was eventually dropped on Nagasaki because of clouds and poor visibility over the Kitakyushu area. [because it had been bombed a day or so before.]

The city’s mills attracted steel-consuming businesses such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., which still have major plants in the area.

“The city used to be full of energy and at its heart was Chuo (shopping street),” said Yamamura, who volunteers as a guide at the Yawata Works’ old head office. “Now, abandoned houses are everywhere and fewer people means the shutters are coming down.”

Other parts of the steelworks have also been listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, including a repair shop that is still in operation after more than a century. The Space World amusement park set up in 1990 at Yawata Works’ idle land, will close at the end of this year.

“It’s not easy to create a new industry. It’s a hard-fought battle,” said Kitakyushu Mayor Kenji Kitahashi, 64. He’s looking to encourage growth from sectors like tourism, robotics, health care and offshore wind power. One of the primary tools in his arsenal is the airport.

Opened in 2006 on an artificial island in the bay after 12 years of construction, the 24-hour airport gives Kitakyushu an advantage over Fukuoka [originally built by Allied POWs], whose downtown runway has to close at night due to noise.

One Kitakyushu company that managed to adapt is robot-maker Yaskawa Electric Corp., which started in 1915 making electric motors and now produces Motoman industrial robots. The company’s stock has risen 75 percent in the past year. High-tech toilet-maker Toto Ltd. and airline Star Flyer Inc. are also based here.

But Kitakyushu’s strategic special zone status granted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016 has more to do with demographics than its industrial heritage. The city was designated as an area for innovation in elderly care.

Even that sector is struggling.

“It’s very hard to find staff,” said Ikuko Kamei, a manager at a local care center within sight of the abandoned Yawata Works blast furnace. “We put out ads at job centers and offer extra cash for new employees, but workers are getting old here.”

Almost 30 percent of Kitakyushu’s residents are 65 or older. Kamei herself is 61.

“I think our future lies in tourism,” she said, ruefully. [Dark Tourism, which is a thing.]

Obligation and the Bataan Death March Memorial

99-year-old Ben Skardon completes 10th walk in Bataan Memorial Death March 



Skardon, a newly minted captain in 1941, led Company A of the 92nd Infantry Regiment PA (Philippine Army), a battalion of Filipino Army recruits on the Bataan Peninsula. Skardon started out with 120 men in his command, and ended in April, 1942, with 60 men left. He himself was in hospital for malaria when the surrender came, but was ambulatory and forced to make the Death March. He earned two Silver Stars and four Bronze Stars for valor. He also survived 3 years in POW camps on the Philippines, the bombing and sinking of two unmarked hell ships by US planes as he was shipped to China. He survived to become a professor of English literature at Clemson University.
March 30, 2017

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, New Mexico — The 75th anniversary of World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March was commemorated by 7,200 participants who gathered in the wee morning hours for the 28th Bataan Memorial Death March, Sunday, March 19.

 Once again, Clemson University alumnus and professor emeritus Ben Skardon, 99 years young, was the oldest participant and the only survivor of the real Bataan Death March who walked in the event. 

He walked eight and a half miles through the unforgiving New Mexico desert, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees, and refused to stop until he matched his distance from the previous nine years. Skardon is a Clemson institution, so Clemson orange was the color of choice for the 64 members of “Ben’s Brigade” — the die-hard support group made up of friends, family, former students and relatives of his fellow prisoners of war — who accompanied him. The swarm of orange T-shirts was only given competition as Skardon crossed through several bright yellow fields of blooming California poppies between the four- and six-mile markers.

Skardon stopped at each mile marker to address his Brigade, usually with a joke or the cry “Oosh!” which is the command he says his Japanese captors gave to keep moving.

As the temperature rose, members of Ben’s Brigade took turns holding an American flag at angles that would shade him. He moved at his normal pace of two miles an hour, but stopped to rest or talk to people several times between each mile marker — something he hadn’t done in years past. Spirits rose as they reached one mile marker after another, but there was concern he might not make it the whole way this year. He had just recovered from a bout of the flu weeks earlier, and the temperatures were 10 degrees hotter than in previous years. It would take nothing away from him if he couldn’t go his traditional 8.5 miles again — if he only walked a mile it would still be an astounding feat — but nobody could question the power of his will either. He never mentioned quitting.

At mile marker six, he left the road to sit on a folding chair and rest in the shade of one of the support tents. The members of Ben’s Brigade, themselves sweaty and tired at this point, gratefully accepted water and gatorade from the volunteers who had waited for them. Somebody put a wet handkerchief around Skardon’s neck and handed him an orange slice to suck on. The two Army medics assigned to him took his vital signs and suggested he should take it easy on himself this year.

“Four minutes,” he said.

Four minutes later, he stood up and walked on.

At mile marker eight, Ben’s Brigade gathered around him one more time.

“Our destiny is right here,” he told them. “What I want to say is ‘thank you,’ and if I haven’t already shaken hands with you, please shake my hand after this. I can’t tell you, personally, how much this has meant to me, especially the new people who come out here for 8.5 miles. A few of you still go out and do more and that’s more power to you, [but] the power in my feet has gone! I have two very stalwart gentleman [the Army medics] who are actually dragging me through to the finish line. It touches me every time I look around and see you. So goodbye to a lot of you. This is the last point we’ll all be together today. Once we get to the finish line, they take me to an air-conditioned tent. You’ll all have to sweat it out!”

At that point nobody in Ben’s Brigade doubted he would reach his goal of 8.5 miles again. They weren’t wrong. He crossed the finish line less fifteen minutes later.

The Bataan Memorial Death March honors a special group of World War II heroes responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino Soldiers were forced to surrender to Japanese forces. The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines. Among those seized were large numbers of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard — the reason the memorial march is held in New Mexico.

Often overlooked are the four months of fierce fighting that took place before the American and Filipino forces surrendered. For instance, Skardon earned two Silver Stars and four Bronze stars during that short time span.

This was Skardon’s 10th time walking in the march, which he considers a personal pilgrimage. He says it’s his sacred responsibility to attend every year and walk with the thousands of others who come to honor those who didn’t survive the real Bataan Death March or the years of confinement in prisoner of war camps that followed.

“Coming here is an obligation,” he said. “I ought to do something, and the best way I know, physically, is to walk every time I get a chance in their memory.”

He says nothing he does now, even at 99, can compare to the ultimate sacrifice of his brothers-in-arms who didn’t return from the war.


“The word ‘hero’ does not apply to me at all,” he insists, quoting the Bible verse John 15:13: “‘Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.'”