On Sept. 8, my husband, Jeff, and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Ishihara Sangyo in Yokkaichi, the company that my dad, Harold Vick, was forced to work for while a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II.
After surviving the infamous Bataan Death March, he was held at several POW camps in the Philippines and was eventually sent to Japan. Of some 13,000 American POWs sent to Japan, 1,115 died in Japan due to the inhumane and abusive treatment that they received.
Akira Kobayashi, director and managing executive officer of Ishihara Sangyo, apologized for what took place at their company where they used POWs as forced laborers. He used the word “apology” and didn’t just talk around it. I could tell they weren’t just words he felt obligated to say because of the circumstances; it was a heartfelt apology. I had trouble holding back the tears.
On behalf of my father, I accepted the apology. I so wish my father could have heard it. Unfortunately he passed away on July 6, 2007, before even receiving the apology from the Japanese government, which was offered by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in 2010.
First stop on the tour of their plant was at the memorial for those POWs who died within this camp. It was beautiful and well kept. I thought about the men Dad told me about that didn’t make it back.
Again my emotions overcame me. They had fresh beautiful flowers for me to lay at the site. The memorial plaque says: Nothing is more sublime than to sacrifice one’s own life for the sake of others. This is dedicated to those who fought and died bravely in the name of peace and freedom during World War II.
There is also a board near the memorial that says in Japanese: This is the monument dedicated to the soldiers of the Allied Powers who unfortunately passed away here during World War II.
Let us put their souls at rest for ever and ever with the bouquet of our passions for peace.
I said a prayer for Dad’s friends who had died there and told Dad this visit was for him and I was doing it as he could not be here.
We continued our tour. I asked if I could get out of the bus as I had to stand where he might very well have walked. In my mind’s eye I could picture him and his friends walking down this street. Here I was in good health and well fed, while it probably took every ounce of his strength to walk these roads.
The next stop was the bay where copper ore was unloaded. This might be where Dad was when he said he could see the U.S. bombing of Nagoya across the bay. They told me a building near that point was one that was standing during that time. I was allowed to walk over and touch the wall of the building. I took in the smells (sulfur and ocean) and how the air felt, thinking how Dad too had experienced these things, wondering if he had touched the same wall 69 to 70 years ago. The tears flowed with the thought this was a spot where he was in such agony.
I tried to take in everything while thinking about Dad being there during the darkest days of his life. It’s very hard to put into words how I felt.
When we went back into the conference room, they gave me a gift, as a token of our friendship, of a Japanese fan on a stand. It is beautiful.
I thanked them from the bottom of my heart for taking the time and incurring the expense of several people’s salaries, the flowers, etc., and their apology. It meant so much to me and I know it would have to my Dad as well.
I grew up hearing stories of the Bataan Death March, the POW camps in the Philippines, the Hell ships and Dad’s time at the camp run by Ishihara Sangyo. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder his whole life. He had pain his entire life from the broken foot he sustained at Ishihara Sangyo when the train on which he was riding carrying copper ore derailed.
The war and the cruel treatment he received by the Japanese was a part of his life. It was with him every single day. I think if he had received the apology and visited the camp and seen the sincerity of the people now in charge, it would have made him feel better.
It would have shown him that the Japanese people alive today regret the actions of their predecessors and that now it is time to move forward and put the past behind us.
During my trip to Japan, I also had the opportunity to ring the bell in the Peace Park of Hiroshima with a Japanese lady. We both had tears in our eyes.
My generation wants to move on past the harm Japan and the U.S. did to each other. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to visit both Hiroshima and Ishihara Sangyo and to receive the apology and to forgive. I will never forget their kindness. I think Dad would have been proud of me.
Ishihara Sangyo is one of the very few Japanese companies that have apologized for wartime POW forced labor. Other companies, such as Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Nippon Steel, refuse to do so. It is my hope that these companies will follow the example of Ishihara Sangyo.
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