WELLSBURG, W.Va. — For the first time in history, a Japanese corporation is expected to apologize publicly for using American prisoners of war for slave labor during World War II.
On Tuesday morning, a delegation from that company – Mitsubishi Materials – will visit the the National American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum, Education and Research Center at the Brooke County Public Library in Wellsburg. The apology is scheduled to be made this weekend at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Ed Jackfert, a 93-year-old former POW from Wellsburg who survived more than three years of malnourishment and abuse at a Japanese prison camp, will be at the Wellsburg museum to meet with Mitsubishi officials, who are expected to announce a donation in support of the museum.
It’s a significant event for the museum – said to have the largest collection of artifacts and documents related to American troops in the Philippines during World War II – but even more so for the surviving POWs who have been dealing with the aftermath of their experiences for more than 70 years, according to museum director Jim Brockman.
“It has to do with closure. I think it’s something they’ve been looking for,” Brockman said.
With the excitement that surrounds such a landmark occasion, however, comes a measure of regret. By now, most of the former POWs are in their 90s, and their numbers dwindle with each passing year.
“It’s just sad that it’s happening this late in their lives, and some are not here to see it,” Brockman said.
Kinue Tokudome, director of the U.S.-Japan Dialogue on POWs, a leader of the drive to convince Japanese companies to apologize for using POW labor during the war, also will be at the Wellsburg museum on Tuesday.
“If it wasn’t for her efforts to negotiate with Mitsubishi and others, this never would have happened. A lot of kudos go out to her,” Brockman said. “This is no small feat.”
George Wallace, a member of the museum’s board of directors, said Mitsubishi’s donation will be used to help maintain the legacy of the Americans who fought and died in the Philippines. He said the company’s apology has been long awaited by survivors – most of whom he said harbor no ill will toward the Japanese, but merely seek acknowledgment of what they endured.
“It’s huge. We have been friends with the Japanese ever since the war ended. But during all that time, they had not been asked to apologize or acknowledge the fact that some of these peoples were used in their businesses to produce materials for the war effort,” Wallace said.
Mitsubishi was just one of a large number of corporations who used forced labor during the war – many of which remain in operation today. Jackfert, for example, was imprisoned at a Showa Denko facility after surviving a voyage on a Japanese “hell ship” following his capture in the Philippines.
Brockman hopes this weekend’s apology will be the first of many.
“If this goes off well, I think we may see more,” he said.