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Japanese company officials apologize to U.S. WWII prisoners of war

Yukio Okamoto, outside board member of Mitsubishi Materials, left, and Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer at Mitsubishi Materials, offer an apology as they hold hands with World War II prisoner of war James Murphy, 94, in Los Angeles on Sunday. (Associated Press)
Yukio Okamoto, outside board member of Mitsubishi Materials, left, and Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer at Mitsubishi Materials, offer an apology as they hold hands with World War II prisoner of war James Murphy, 94, in Los Angeles on Sunday. (Associated Press)
Andrew Dalton Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – Saying they felt a “deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy,” executives from a major Japanese corporation gave an unprecedented apology Sunday to a 94-year-old U.S. prisoner of war for using American POWs for forced labor during World War II.

At the solemn ceremony hosted by the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, James Murphy, of Santa Maria, California, accepted the apology he had sought for 70 years on behalf of U.S. POWs from executives of Mitsubishi Materials Corp.

Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer for Mitsubishi Materials Corp., said through a translator that the company offered a “most remorseful apology” to the about 900 POWs who suffered “harsh, severe hardships” while forced to work in Mitsubishi mines and industrial plants.

Murphy, who toiled in Mitsubishi copper mines and is one of the few left alive to accept such an apology, called it sincere, humble and revealing.

“This is a glorious day,” said Murphy, who stood tall and slender in a gray suit at the ceremony and looked much younger than his 94 years. “For 70 years, we wanted this.”

Other POWs subjected to forced labor sat in the audience along with many members of Murphy’s family.

Stanley Gibson, whose late father worked alongside Murphy in the mines, flew from Scotland to Los Angeles for the ceremony to represent his family after hearing about it in news reports just a few days earlier. On the stage was a photo of the two men being liberated from their captors.

The Japanese government has twice apologized to U.S. POWs used as forced laborers during World War II.

But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the center whose primary focus in the past has been Holocaust education, said he and the event’s other organizers believe the apology is unprecedented from a major Japanese company.

Cooper, Murphy and others who spoke urged more Japanese companies to come forward to express their own remorse.

The ceremony was preceded by a private apology that ended with a long, deep bow from the Mitsubishi representatives.

Japan’s government issued a formal apology to American POWs in 2009 and again in 2010. About 12,000 American prisoners were shipped to Japan and forced to work at more than 50 sites to support imperial Japan’s war effort, and about 10 percent died, said Kinue Tokudome, director of the U.S.-Japan Dialogue on POWs, who has spearheaded the lobbying effort for companies to apologize.

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