The horror of the Bataan Death March, and the American and Filipino lives lost, must never be forgotten.
I WAS invited by the White House to hear the remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Obama, who met at Pearl Harbor last month. My path to this historic event began in 1941.
That year, my father, Maj. Clarence White, was an Army doctor stationed in Manila. My first childhood memory is of Pier 7 in Manila, where my pregnant mother and I were evacuated back to the U.S. along with other military families only months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In April 1942, when Army Maj. Gen. Edward King surrendered the Filipino and American forces on Bataan, my father became a prisoner of war and endured the Bataan Death March before being imprisoned at Cabanatuan.
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This was the beginning of three and a half years of starvation, torture, disease and death for the POWS. Beginning in 1942, the POWs were transported on ships — now known as “hell ships” — to Japan to be used as slave labor in mines and factories. My father was on the last transport ship to leave Manila, the Oryoko Maru, in December 1944.
The ship was bombed by Navy bombers and he survived this attack. He was moved to another ship, the Enoura Maru.
On Jan. 9, 1945, American planes bombed the ship and my father suffered shrapnel wounds. He died two days later of these treatable wounds. The survivors went on to Japan. Of the 1,621 men who boarded the Oryoko Maru in Manila, fewer than 400 survived to the end of the war.
My mother did not remarry, did not talk about my dad, and I knew intuitively that this was not a subject to be discussed. Open displays of grief were discouraged; there were no support groups or grief counseling.
Eventually, I began doing research and connected with the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, the organization founded by surviving POWs in 1946. When they decided they could no longer maintain the organization, I became a founding member of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society. My involvement with these organizations resulted in my invitation to Pearl Harbor.
I have made lasting friendships with both POWs and their families and have come to understand the depth of the trauma they experienced. This chapter of World War II must not be forgotten. To this end, we were pleased to hear Prime Minister Abe’s remarks indicating support for more education about the war. His visit was the first time a Japanese prime minister has made an official visit to Pearl Harbor.
Prime Minister Abe spoke of reconciliation: For our POWs and their families, reconciliation is a multigenerational process. Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor was a significant but not final step in that process.