An American professor has dedicated his life to telling others of the brutality he endured while he was a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

Lester Tenney, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University and the author of the book “My Hitch in Hell: The Bataan Death March (Memories of War),” is a survivor of the infamous march of POWs in the Philippines.

The compensation issue for torture and mistreatment of prisoners of war by Japanese is not talked about as often as the “comfort women” issue today and is gradually fading into history, but Tenney is making sure the POW story remains alive.

“Have you heard about Bataan, ‘Hell Ship’ and slave labor?” he asks his students in a vigorous voice belying his 87 years.

The Bataan Death March took place in 1942, when Japanese forces made about 75,000 POWs, the bulk of them Filipinos and around 12,000 Americans, travel inland on foot to prison camps. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 prisoners died during the march.

Palmer University near San Diego invited Tenney to lecture in a history course on mistreatment of POWs by the Imperial army.

The objective of his lectures is for students to learn the perspective of “how humans could commit such atrocities against other human beings.”

While Tenney tells the story of Japanese soldiers decapitating weakened POWs, he also points out there was discrimination against blacks and Jews in U.S. society, suggesting there is no national border in terms of the dark side of humanity.

Tenney, a Chicago native, was captured when the U.S. forces surrendered in the Battle of Bataan in April 1942.

After the death march, he was taken to Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, on a “Hell Ship” crammed with other ailing POWs in the cargo hold.

Forced to work at Mitsui-Miike mining, he was beaten by Japanese workers, and scars remain on his body today, Tenney said.

After about 3 1/2 years in the prison camp, the war ended and Tenney was able to return home, but he says the American public gave him the cold shoulder because he was branded as a traitor who abandoned the fight.

For a long time, Tenney did not talk about his experiences in captivity, but he filed a lawsuit against Mitsui mining and others at a Los Angeles court in 1999 seeking punitive damages and compensation.

The court rejected his call for damages, but Tenney started to tell his story at universities in Japan and the U.S., hoping “Japanese companies take responsibility for their inhumane acts against POWs and (for) taking their dignity away.”

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