SAN ANTONIO, May 30, 2009 -- The Japanese ambassador to the United States apologized in person today to the 73 surviving POWs of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in April 1942 during World War II.
"We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people including prisoners of war, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan peninsula the Corregidor Island, Philippines and other places," Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki said at the last convention of the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor POWs of the Japanese during World War II.
Sixty-seven years after the Japanese captured and force-marched 12,000 Americans and 68,000 Philippines from the island of Corregidor to northern Luzon, denying them food and water, and killing the stragglers, the country apologized.
The ambassador said he was speaking for the government of Japan as he apologized.
"I would like to express my deepest condolences to those who have lose their lives to the war and after the war and their family members," he said.
It is estimated that the Japanese killed nearly 1,000 Americans and more than 10,000 Philippine soldiers on the march. When news of the march reached the United States, it enflamed the anger against the Japanese, which was already high because of the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the country into the war.
Lester Tenney, 88, former staff sergeant of the Army's 192nd Tank Division survived to write a book about the wartime injustice, called "My Hitch in Hell."
As president of the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor POWs of the Japanese during World War II, he made it his mission to pursue an apology from the Japanese government for the brutal treatment during that 12-day, 86-mile march in which stragglers were bayoneted and their bodies tossed by the roadside.
Last November, while in Washington, D.C., to commemorate Veterans Day, he received a call from the Japanese ambassador, who asked him to visit his residence and relate his request.
Tenney described to him the tortuous experiences that he and his comrades had endured.
The ambassador took Tenney's request to his government and wrote a letter of apology. Upon receipt of the letter, he was invited to deliver it in person to annual gathering.
This will be the last time the POWS will host the gathering, the group has said. Their families, the Descendants Group will take on the memorial mission in the future.
Speaking to reporters after the ambassador's remarks to the POWs, Tenney said he "feels good" about his efforts.
He compared finally receiving the apology to "going 15 rounds in a fight and knocking out your opponent."
Whatever Tenney's feelings about his Japanese captors during the war, today he said he admired the ambassador.
"It takes an great amount of courage to come in the lion's den" and to express the Japanese point of view, Tenney said.
Fujisaki ended his remarks,
"Today Japan and U.S. are the closest friends, best allies. But we should always keep in our minds that this good relations, this status of past experience and efforts," Fujisaki said. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are committed to carry on the torch to our future generations of this excellent and irreplaceable friendship and relations."