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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apologize on record, ex-POW urges


Staff writer

Former prisoner of war Raymond Heimbuch told members of the Democratic Party of Japan at a hearing Wednesday that he wants an official apology from the Japanese government extended to him and to other POWs.

Heimbuch was one of the many United States soldiers and civilians who were captured by Japanese forces during World War II. Many were forced to work virtually around the clock for Japanese companies under abusive conditions.

Stressing that he felt no animosity toward the Japanese people, Heimbuch said time was of the essence, considering the age of many of the remaining POWs, including himself. Heimbuch is 89.

"The only thing I would want is acknowledgment that the treatment we received, we actually received it. It's not stories made up," he said. "Money does not mean anything to us. We do not need money," he added.

Heimbuch, initially with the U.S. Army's 5th air base group in Utah, was sent to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines in December 1941. After his capture in May 1942, he spent the next two years in a prison camp on the island.

As the Japanese forces retreated, he was sent to the town of Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, where he worked at a copper smelting plant run by Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha Ltd., and later at an ironworks in Toyama Prefecture.

On the journey from the Philippines to Japan, Heimbuch and other POWs were forced to endure 92 days confined in the hold of a ship, a horrendous ordeal recounted in his book, "I'm One of the Lucky Ones, I Came Home Alive."

Heimbuch was freed on Sept. 5, 1945. He said, however, that it took him 30 years to decide to face his past, and even longer before he even began discussing his experience.

"Once I got back home, we never talked about it, even with my brother. It was something that we just forgot," he said. Heimbuch's brother was also a survivor of Japanese POW camps.

"My wife and children, all they knew was that I was a POW. None of them knew of what happened until I wrote my first book," he told the lawmakers in the Diet.

Over the years, a number of POWs and other victims of the war like Heimbuch and Lester Tenney, a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March, have sued the Japanese companies they worked for, without success.

Heimbuch said during the hearing that although Tenney recently received a letter of apology from Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan's ambassador in Washington, D.C., the apology was specifically made to those who fought the battles of Corregidor and Bataan, not Mindanao.

"I do not want anything personal, I just want people to know it's not (only) Corregidor and Bataan, its all POWs," he said.



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