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Bittersweet Apology

Japan's apology to veterans of the Bataan Death March.

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: Fri 06/12/2009
Section: B
Page: 10
Edition: 3 STAR R.O.

Bittersweet apology For veterans of WWII's Bataan Death March, Japan's face-to-face 'sorry' comes late.

THESE past few days the international media spotlight has been trained - and rightly so - on the Normandy coast, site of the D-Day invasion in June 1944 that marked a dramatic turning point in the struggle to liberate Europe from Nazi control. This year marks the 65th remembrance of the storming of the beaches stirringly recorded as The Longest Day in literature and cinema. The epic battle's anniversary was marked with fitting ceremony by world leaders, including President Barack Obama.

But wait ... before the calendar turns too many more pages, we'd call attention to another World War II event of significance, and another, much less publicized remembrance, also rich with meaning.

The event is the Bataan Death March in the Pacific Theater. The unexpected remembrance was an apology to Death March survivors and other veterans of the Battle for the Philippines by Japan's ambassador to the United States. It came in last-minute fashion at the 64th annual convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, held in San Antonio in late May.

Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki flew from Washington to San Antonio to deliver a personal apology to the Bataan survivors. It marked the first time in 67 years that an apology had been made to survivors face to face by an official of the Japanese government for the horrors inflicted during the Death March and, for many, time subsequently spent in Japan as slave laborers.

The Bataan Death March, which took place in April 1942 in the Philippines, was a 60-mile forced march out of Bataan, a province on the Philippine island of Luzon, through intense heat with almost no water or food. Thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war held by the Japanese never made it.

Understandably, the ambassador's belated gesture received a mixed reaction from the gathering of 400-500 survivors. It was welcomed by the Bataan/Corregidor group's national commander, Lester Tenney. But others could not forgive the atrocities committed by the Japanese so long ago. These wrongs included starvation, slashings with bayonets and forced labor. About half of those present reportedly gave the Japanese ambassador a standing ovation. The other half demurred.

Was this gesture late? Of course it was. It should have been made decades ago. It should never have taken Japan 67 years to make such amends directly and personally to those its World War II regime so brutally abused.

Was it too late? No, not in our view. It is better late than never. We believe the apology is heartfelt.

But it arrived just barely in time. The ambassador's appearance carries even more poignancy because it came at the last annual convention scheduled by the Bataan/Corregidor vets. As of June 30, according to the Web site of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, the group will disband and be replaced by a new group of their descendants. According to the site, "age has taken its toll on the membership and this organization has decided that it is time to terminate its existence ... "

We will take this bittersweet occasion to snap a heartfelt salute to these men who suffered untold abuses so long ago in order to keep this country free.

Godspeed, gentlemen. Your sacrifices and your service will never be forgotten.

Owner of originalHouston Chronicle
Date12 Jun 2009
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