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70 years after WWII, Japanese firm to apologize to US vets

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Los Angeles: A major Japanese corporation plans to offer a landmark apology today for using US prisoners of war for forced labor during World War II, nearly 70 years after the end of the war.

A senior executive of the Mitsubishi Materials corporation will offer the apology to former POWs, including 94-year-old James Murphy of Santa Maria, California during a ceremony today at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the center whose primary focus in the past has been Holocaust education, said he believes the move is unprecedented.

“As far as I know, this is a piece of history,” Cooper told The Associated Press recently. “It’s the first time a major Japanese company has ever made such a gesture. We hope this will spur other companies to join in and do the same.”

Japan’s government issued a formal apology to American POWs in 2009 and again in 2010. But the dwindling ranks of POWs used as slaves at mines and industrial plants have so far had little luck in getting apologies from the corporations who used them, sometimes in brutal conditions.

Some 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 per cent died, according to Kinue Tokudome, director of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, who has spearheaded the lobbying effort for companies to apologize.