Former American POWs Vsit Japan, Recount Memories

Former American POWs Visit Japan, Recount Memories

Former American POWs Visit Japan, Recount Memories

Nine former American servicemen who were held as prisoners during World War II were in Japan on Monday to revisit some of the places where they were held seven decades ago and recount their memories.

The men, all in their 90s, opened their tour with a memorial service for their fellow fallen soldiers at the Commonwealth War Graves in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

As they marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, the emphasis was on reconciliation.

George Rogers, of Lynchburg, Virginia, said he had no hard feelings. Now 96, he was taken captive by the Japanese after surviving the infamous Bataan Death March in April 1942 and forced to work at the Yawata steel plant in southern Japan, or today’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.

During his nearly 3 1/2 years of captivity, Rogers was given meager food rations and sometimes beaten up.

He said that he was lucky to survive, but that he harbored “no hard feelings” toward his captors.

“Just like we do what we’re told to do as far as the Army is concerned, your (Japanese) men do the same thing. They tell them to do it, they do it,” he said. “Other than that, I think we lived.”

A month after Japan’s Aug. 15, 1945, surrender, Rogers returned to the U.S. in skin-and-bone state, weighing only 85 pounds (38 kilograms) despite being 6-foot-3. His doctor told him — he was 26 then — that he would most likely not live past 45 or 50, keep his teeth or have children.

Rogers still has his teeth, and has five children. One of them, Jeffrey, accompanied him on his trip to Japan.

“They didn’t give me any food, and I didn’t get much water when I needed it, but other than that, it was a long trip, very far,” he said.

His hope to revisit the steel plant wasn’t accommodated. The Yawata plant was chosen as a World Heritage site.

During the Bataan march, thousands of prisoners were forced to walk more than 60 miles (97 kilometers) under severe, sweltering conditions while being abused by their captors. Many died.

Some 132,000 allied force members were held as prisoners across Asia during World War II, including more than 30,000 in Japan, historians say. They say that of the total, about 35,800, or nearly one-third, died in captivity — dying at a rate several times higher than prisoners held by Germany and Italy.

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