Tenney's Visit to Japan (May 28 - June 6, 2008)
The US forces were running out of food and ammunition for months prior to the order of surrender on April 9, permitting only as little as 800 calories per day for each soldier in the final stage. And because of malaria, dysentery and other diseases, the US and Filipino soldiers were weakened. The Japanese didn’t know that. The guards of the march had received the instruction, “If POWs don’t walk, kill them," although Dr. Tenney doesn’t know if this instruction was literally meant. The US and Japanese soldiers didn’t understand each other’s language. When asked, "What was the most horrible experience?" he answered, "It was you had to watch and could do nothing when your friends were killed."
Dr. Tenney enjoys speaking to young people
Dr. Tenney says, “Those who still hate Japanese are still their prisoners.” When someone asked, “How could you forgive?” he told the story of Mr. Toru Tasaka, who the Tenneys call their Japanese son.
In 1966, Dr. Tenney put up the young man just
for one night, which extended into 100 nights, and they formed relation like
father and son. In 1986, Dr. Tenney and his wife Betty were invited to Mr. Tasaka's
wedding. When Dr. Tenney hugged Mr. Tasaka at the Airport, he realized he had
(Photo: With Mr. Toru Tasaka and his wife, Sumiko)
(At Ryozen Shinto Shrine
with Mr. Fukubayashi )
Captain of 14th Army Publicity Section, Mr. Junsuke Hitomi, asked for fifteen
minutes, and talked beginning with his heartfelt Sorry for the suffering of Dr.
Tenney and other POWs. “The Japanese had to move a far larger number of POWs
than they had expected. Japanese soldiers also had been suffering from malaria,
dysentery, etc. A few of the guards died every week and the duty was carried on,
cremating the dead. Historical investigation of that war as a whole is a project
yet to be done.” Listening to the interpretation, Dr. Tenney once inserted a
comment, “However, the Japanese soldiers weren't killed as they fell, were they?”
Ikeda, a former Siberian Internee sympathized with Dr. Tenney’s op-ed piece in 2001,
and they had since formed friendship through the internet.
Mr. Fumio Yoshida, who had donated many Zentsuji camp photos to our website, also attended. Mr. Yoshida's photo collection: Photo album of Zentsuji POW camp.htm
On June 3, the “Sea Forum” featuring Dr. Tenney as the speaker was held at the “Memorial Museum; Listen to the Voices from the Sea”, which collects and displays the materials donated by bereaved families of students killed in the war.
The Chairman of the Board, Mr. Hisashi Tezuka guided the Tenneys to see the artifacts, including those left by his Navy classmate who died in Kamikaze mission in the Okinawa campaign.
A Tokyo University professor emeritus asked Dr. Tenney’s
opinion on the War in Iraq, the question that was repeatedly asked at other
venues. Dr. Tenney, who wanted to focus on his experience and his appeal,
replied. “Let’s personally talk later what I think about the War in Iraq. One
thing I would like to tell you, though, is this. I’m against torture.”
Mr. Tsutomu Nagata shared his memory as a teenager in Omuta of seeing POWs marching to their daily work in the Mitsui coalmine.
“It’s important to tell them ‘we’re thinking of you, praying for you, and waiting for you’,” he says. The Tenneys have organized a volunteer group in the retirement community where they live and they dispatch 50 boxes a week to Iraq. They receive lists from soldiers on items they want, fill boxes with them, and send out with messages. Soldiers write back with thank you notes. Betty says, “Fortunately none of these we contact has died so far. But one of our sons got sad news.”
TV news on Dr. Tenney's project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Diah0uKEFRg
The Tenneys left their comments in the visitors’ notebook at the Musuem; “This Memorial is very meaningful to me. So many young men had to die—it is sad. I am happy I was able to visit this Memorial. Lester Tenney, former POW” “We were honored to visit this memorial and understand how sad the families of these young men must have been to lose their children. Betty Tenney”
At the evening lecture of June 4, some Japanese Filipino war veterans spoke among others, to which Tenney responded with a loud “Thank you.”
Mr. Masaichi Matsushita: “I became a POW on April 29, 1945, running out of ammunition to do a Kamikaze attack to the US tank. After treated well in a US POW camp, I was held in New Bilibid as a war criminal suspect. Eventually around 20 of us were moved to an ordinary POW camp. There we were ordered to bear some wood on our back, and, as Christ walked up the hill of Golgotha, were forced to march around the hill of the camp a full day, among the curses of the surrounding former American POWs liberated in Kyushu. Afterwards, one of them beckoned me, and he pushed boxes of Lucky Strike into my pocket. I understood with my sixth sense what he said, ‘A Japanese soldier was very kind to me in Kyushu. As I can’t return his kindness now, let me do this to you on behalf of him.’”
Mr. Toshimi Kumai was sent to Bataan in March 1942 as a machine gun platoon leader, and joined the all-out Assault on April 3. “After the fall of Bataan, our unit was ordered the first duty of guarding the POWs from Balanga. I was downed with malaria, but the soldiers of the unit including my men were having a hard time, as they had to guard 1,000 POWs with around twenty soldiers. I remember I received reports that they had to pull off the fallen POWs by the roadside (otherwise they’d be flattened by the vehicles), paid tribute to the death with their hands clasped in prayer, and caught up the march. A caption to a photo in the handouts given today says, 'The Japanese forced the Filipino citizens to see the killed US soldiers', and I am surprised to see such an explanation.”
Finally Kinue Tokudome, Executive Director of US-Japan dialogue on POWs, Inc., concluded, "Why has there been no dialogue like this? I hope today will be the first step of such occasions."
On the same June 4, Dr. Tenney talked to seven former Internees and one of their wives. They were forced to labor for four years in Siberia or Mongolia. Both groups were anxious, “What would happen tomorrow?” They shared the same worry－if the end of their life might come before the end of the war, or the liberation from the internment? They both were starved and ate anything they could. Exchanging these common experiences, Tenney shouted in Japanese, “Onaji, onaji.(the same, the same.)”
“You are cowards for surrendering instead of dying for the US president. You are lower than dogs, and we’ll treat you accordingly for the rest of your life.” (O’Donnell POW Camp Commander’s speech) The Internees didn’t receive that contempt. They say Russians were rather appreciative for their labor. The damaged self-esteem was characteristic to the experience of the Allied POWs. When he returned at the age of 25, Tenney thinks he believed himself lower than dogs. Some of the buddies could not recover their self-esteem, but became an alcoholic, divorced or even committed suicide. He feels that Japan is still treating him and his buddies like lowly dogs by not treating them fairly or the same as they treat other POWs.
Mr. Toshio Kikuchi was shocked to read the Japanese translation of Dr. Tenney’s book, but he was touched by the comments sent to Dr. Tenney by the primary school pupils near the Hodogaya War Cemetery, where he talked in 2001. Dr. Tenney, who remembers the children, happily clapped.
Mr. Shotaro Kinoshita, who was conscripted and sent to China in March 1945 from his home in Fukuoka asked, “In Fukuoka, remains of soy beans after the beans were squeezed to get oil were rationed, and we boiled them to supply little rice we had. Did you have them?” Tenney replied, “We had just rice. Once the guards brought in some dogs they caught, and we ate them.” Only-rice diet caused beri-beri, which still torments the former POWs with pains, sometimes requiring amputation of toes. According to Dr. Tenney’s book, salt was never supplied so they built a salt-gathering contraption from sea-water, so that the POWs could survive the coal mine labor, where they sweated profusely.
Dr. Tenney gave ten lectures, including to university students and Diet Members, while being interviewed seven times by the media and researchers. Real, positive and full of love, he succeeded in opening people’s heart, and appealed with articulate words and expressions.
reporters eagerly researched and we are grateful for the four articles, a TV
news, and a radio recording by an institute affiliated to a university. More are
expected to appear in the future.