By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kelby Sanders
YOKOHAMA, Japan (Oct. 5, 2012) — Four Australian former prisoners of war (POWs) were honored by the Japanese government during a ceremonial wreath-laying at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama, Japan October 4.
The program’s objective is to promote mutual understanding between Japan and Australia by fostering a spirit of reconciliation and encouraging the growth of friendship between the two nations, according to officials.
Dr. Brendon Hammer, deputy head of Mission Australia, kicked off the ceremony with a gracious welcoming to all the guests, and U.S. 7th Fleet Chaplain, Capt. John Shimotsu followed with a prayer and a song.
Shimotsu said he was honored to be given the opportunity to offer a prayer at the ceremony for a number of reasons.
“It’s important to support religious needs and to help friends give thanks to God, pray for reconciliation among the living and to repose of the souls of the departed,” he said. “Secondly, Australia and Japan are strong friends and allies of the United States and we will do all we can to strengthen the friendship between them.”
The trip was highlighted with a meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister who also reiterated Japan’s feelings of remorse and heartfelt apology for the damage and suffering inflicted on many people during the war, including former POWs.
The four Australian representatives included:
William H. Schmitt, age 94, from South Australia, who says, despite his wartime experiences, he holds no enmity towards Japan.
Colin Hamley, 90, from Victoria, who wants to meet younger Japanese people during his visit in order to help foster reconciliation.
Elsa Hatfield, 88, also from Victoria, who says she wants to visit Takuma Harbor in Shikoku, where she was married 65 years ago, and to see her son’s grave.
Colin Begley, 79, from Queensland, who was interred at the age of nine and wants to meet other Japanese people who suffered during their wartime childhood experiences.
The four honored guests represented more than 23,500 military and civilian personnel taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. More than a third of those prisoners died during captivity.