Mitsubishi Materials makes historic apology to ex-POW forced laborers

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LOS ANGELES — A top executive from Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials Corp. delivered July 19 a historic apology to former American prisoners of war who were used as forced labor during World War II.

Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer at the company, said through a translator that the company expressed “our most remorseful apology” to the nearly 900 former U.S. POWs “subjected to hard labor during World War II when they worked in mines operated by Mitsubishi Mining Co. Ltd., the predecessor of Mitsubishi Materials.”

“We cannot help feeling a deep sense of ethical responsibility for this past tragedy,” he said during the ceremony held at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

He continued, “I also told them that Mitsubishi Materials intends to never allow such a thing to happen again.”

James Murphy, a former POW forced to work at a Mitsubishi copper mine near Hanawa, northeastern Japan in 1944 and 1945, accepted the apology on behalf of former American POWs. “I listened very carefully to Mr. Kimura’s statement of apology and found it very, very sincere, humble and revealing,” the 94-year-old said. “This happens to be the first time we heard those words and they really touch you at the heart.” He added, “I know we can trust these words that were spoken here today.”

Kimura and Murphy, along with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Yukio Okamoto, outside board member of Mitsubishi Materials and a special advisor to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, smiled and shook hands, marking the occasion.

A number of other former POWs and families of former POWs were also in attendance.

Chuck Johannsen, 81, attended the ceremony on behalf of his late older brother, Fred Johannsen, a POW captured in Bataan in the Philippines and held by Japanese forces for over three-and-a-half years.

“It’s heartwarming,” Johannsen said of the apology. “I never thought anything like this would ever happen and was definitely very surprised.”
Stanley Gibson, the son of a former British POW who was liberated at the same time as Murphy, even flew in from Scotland for the ceremony after learning about it in the news.

Kimura said if the opportunity presents itself, the company would also consider extending apologies to other people in different countries.
Prior to the ceremony, the Japanese officials and former POWs spoke in a private meeting.

“I entered the room with a heavy heart seeking forgiveness,” Okamoto said. “Instead of grievances, I was met with forgiveness and generosity.” He also apologized “for not apologizing earlier,” acknowledging that many former POWs have already died.

This year marks 70 years since the end of World War II in 1945.

Rabbi Cooper highlighted Kinue Tokudome, founder and director of the U.S.-Japan Dialogue on POWs, for her efforts advocating for Japanese companies to apologize to former POWs.

Tokudome approached several major Japanese companies about offering an apology, prompting Mitsubishi Materials to act.

Murphy and others urged other Japanese companies to follow Mitsubishi Materials’ lead to apologize for the forced labor of the U.S. and other countries’ POWs.

Jan Thompson, daughter of a POW and president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, said, “Mitsubishi Materials should be applauded by everybody in the world right now.”

“I hope others will come forward because there are other companies out there who should…acknowledge what they did during World War II,” she said.

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