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Veteran urges Abe to 'face history right on'

By Reuters in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-29 07:40

Lester Tenney, a 94-year-old survivor of the 1942 Bataan Death March, said he hoped to deliver a simple message about wartime responsibility to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe if the two meet in Washington this week.

He may get his chance. Tenney is among 200 people invited to a gala dinner on Wednesday hosted by the visiting Japanese leader.

"I would shake his hand, and at the same time I most probably would say 'don't rewrite history'," said Tenney, who will travel from his home in southern California to attend the dinner.

"I would like him to accept responsibility," he said. "I'd like him to say that Japan and Americans are going to be good friends. And one of the ways to be good friends is to face history right on."

Tenney said he would also attend the Japanese leader's speech before both houses of Congress on Wednesday.

How Abe addresses the country's wartime past is expected to come under intense scrutiny, and the issue also could come up when Abe and US President Barack Obama meet Tuesday for talks. On Monday, Abe laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the war dead.

While previous prime ministers have apologized for Japan's aggression during World War II, Abe's conservative agenda includes a less apologetic tone about the past. Abe has said he upholds apologies made by previous administrations, but also has signaled that he wants to focus more on the future given that it has been 70 years since the war ended.

The position has rankled victims of that past aggression. Tenney said he survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, when thousands of Filipino and US prisoners of war were believed to have died in a brutal 105-km march to prison camps.

Along with other survivors, Tenney was shipped to Japan where he worked 12 hours a day in a coal mine until the end of the war. The conditions were so horrible that prisoners intentionally broke bones to get time off. Fed only three bowls of rice a day, his weight roughly halved to 44 kg.

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