LOS ANGELES—He was forced to toil in enemy mines as a prisoner of war, but James Murphy wasn’t angry or bitter. He was just happy to have lived long enough to hear the Japanese apology he had sought for seven decades.
Murphy, a POW during World War II and now 94 years old, accepted an unprecedented apology from Mitsubishi Materials Corp. on Sunday on behalf of his fellow POWs, few of whom remain alive, in a ceremony that was both solemn and joyful.
“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.”
Saying they felt a “deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy,” Mitsubishis executives presented the apology privately then publicly to Murphy, of Santa Maria, California, at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer for Mitsubishi, 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 worked in Mitsubishi’s copper mines in the war, called the apology sincere, humble and revealing.
He stood and shook hands with Kimura and others as cameras clicked throughout the dimly lit museum theater, with giant American and Japanese flags projected side-by-side behind them.
Other POWs subjected sat in the audience along with many members of Murphy’s family.
Stanley Gibson, whose late father worked alongside Murphy in the mines, overcame his fear of flight to come 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.
“Considering what my father went through it was the least I could do,” Gibson said.
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. “I entered the room with a heavy heart, seeking forgiveness,” said Yukio Okamoto, outside board member for Mitsubishi.
Murphy said that after 70 years it was “the first time we’ve heard those words. They touch the heart.”
Murphy was gracious and beaming throughout the ceremony, expressing little bitterness or sorrow on what he called a happy day. He stressed that the apology was not half-hearted, qualified or self-aggrandizing for Mitsubishi. He said the apology “admits to wrongdoing, makes sincere statement showing deep remorse,” and offers assurances that the wrongs will never be repeated.
“I know that we can trust those words,” Murphy said.
Others, including one Mitsubishi representative, struck a sadder tone over how long the apology took. “We also have to apologize for not apologizing earlier,” Okamoto said.
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 under brutal conditions.
Murphy said that if he could talk to his fellow POWs who didn’t survive long enough he’d tell them to “rest quietly, it’s over. We did get our apology.”