A story of truth’

By Rochelle McConkie

Following the Bataan Death March of World War II, thousands of American soldiers were forced into slavery in Japanese work camps.

With the new book, Soldier Slaves: Abandoned by the White House, Courts and Congress, James W. Parkinson and Lee Benson are out to tell this unknown story.

While speaking Thursday at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Parkinson and Benson promoted their book, which gives the history of these “soldier slaves” from past to present, relating firsthand veteran accounts and detailing the continuing legal struggle to gain compensation for the soldiers.

“Our story is not a good story; it is a story of truth,” Parkinson said. “It is important for America to know what really happened-we need to understand our history.”

Parkinson, a trial lawyer and co-leading council in the JPOW case, has been representing these World War II soldiers in seeking restitution from Japanese companies-such as Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Kawasaki-that forced them into slave labor for three to four years during the war.

One veteran Parkinson represents is Harold Poole, a retired mailman from Salt Lake City who fought with the Twentieth Pursuit Squadron in the Army Air Corps. Poole was awarded the Silver Star for shooting down the first Japanese Zero in the Battle of Manila. After the Bataan Death March, Poole became a soldier slave.

In the labor camp, Poole survived on a diet of small rice balls and green soup. For 21 months, finding adequate nutrition and enough strength to endure 10-hour workdays in the steel mills was difficult, he said. In the beginning of the war, Poole weighed 180 pounds. At one point at the prison camp, he weighed only 97 pounds.

Poole remembers carrying dead men on his shoulders as he walked them to the burial grounds, throwing them into hand-dug graves naked so they could save their clothes.

“I have no animosity toward the Japanese people, though,” Poole said. “I had seen how the civilians suffered. I forgave them before I even left Japan-I wanted to move on with my life. I thought, if I hate the Japanese, does it hurt them? No, it hurts only the one who hates.”

Years later, Poole’s son was called on an LDS mission to Japan. Poole had no objections.

The legal battle for compensation for these soldiers started out as a tort case-a case in which a wronged party seeks reparation. Parkinson defended the soldiers that had been used as slaves in Japanese coal and steel mines, entitling them to half a million dollars in compensation each, not including pain and suffering costs.

After early litigation failed, Parkinson decided to take the case to a national level, proposing a congressional bill that has been supported by Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Democratic Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden.

Parkinson enlisted Lee Benson, an author and columnist for the Deseret Morning News, to help him tell this story. They walked part of the Bataan Death March with Harold Poole while researching for their book.

Benson said, “I salute Jim for trying to give these men justice. I salute Harold for living the kind of life we should all want to live.”

Recently, the bill was killed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The U.S. Supreme Court would not hear the case. Japanese corporations still refuse to give money to veterans. While all other countries whose soldiers were enslaved in these camps have passed legal compensation measures, the United States still has not.

Despite setbacks, Parkinson and Benson are still fighting for the cause, urging citizens to be educated and to honor veterans any way they can.

Patrick Reimherr, a sophomore economics major, said, “Every student should be educated in history so we don’t make the same mistakes.”