Wellsburg veteran, POW honored for his efforts

WELLSBURG – World War II veteran Ed Jackfert of Wellsburg survived three and a half years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and has recorded atrocities committed there and to the thousands of American and Filippino troops who were forced to walk the Bataan Death March in three books and through a museum at the Brooke County Public Library.

So he may surprise some when he says he harbors no animosity against the Japanese.

Jackfert, who was honored Friday for his military service and his efforts to establish and expand the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum at the library, said younger generations must learn lessons from past wars.

“We’ve got to educate the young people that war is not the way to settle disputes,” he said.

Jackfert recalled visiting Japan in 2010 to accept a formal apology from Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Tetsuro Fukuyama, chief of staff for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, for inhumane treatment of the POWs.

Of about 24,000 who were captured, 11,107 died at the hands of their captors or from disease, dehydration or starvation, he noted.

But during his visit to Japan, Jackfert also spoke to about 100 students at International Christian University in Tokyo, who said they weren’t aware of atrocities committed in the war but wanted to learn about them.

Jackfert said today’s Japanese can’t help what was done in the past. But he said Japan can follow the example of Germany, where an organization known as Remembrance, Responsibility and Future has secured contributions from German industries to help Allied service members who were forced to work in POW camps in Kawasaki and Mindanao.

Jackfert said it troubled him and other POWs to know they were being forced to work for Japan’s war effort, against their fellow troops. He added major Japanese industries of today benefited from the forced labor of the POWs.

But Jackfert confessed “to seeing horrible things” during his captivity. He noted it was common for unmarked POW camps to be attacked by Allied forces.

One night his camp was bombed, 23 POWs were killed and the following day, he and others were ordered to collect the “pieces of flesh” that remained, he said.

At a surprise program held at Wellsburg First Christian Church, Mayor Sue Simonetti presented a resolution from Wellsburg Council declaring Friday Edward Jackfert Day.

It noted Jackfert was serving as an infantryman in the Army Air Corps, a forerunner of the Air Force, and among Allied troops struggling for five months to ward off Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands of Bataan and Corregidor when they were captured.

Jackfert said the troops were poorly trained and equipped and military leaders were willing to sacrifice them in order to focus on fighting in Europe. But he believes their efforts ultimately helped to prevent the Japanese from invading Australia.

Following his liberation from the POW camp by Allied forces, Jackfert returned home, earned a degree in economics from Bethany College.

A letter of appreciation from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and presented by Mary Jo Guidi, his aide, noted Jackfert became a criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service under President John F. Kennedy and held the position until his retirement in 1977.

Guidi also presented to Jackfert a U.S. flag that was flown over the Capitol in his honor.

In 1984 Jackfert joined the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a national POW organization, and served twice as its commander.

In 2002 he and his wife, Henrietta, approached Mary Kay Wallace, director of the Brooke County Public Library; and the library’s board about donating several materials related to the experience of POWs from the Philippine Islands, particularly those in the Bataan Death March.

About 72,000 American and Filipino troops captured at Bataan were forced walk 65 miles in grueling heat to a railroad station where they were loaded onto stifling boxcars to the Camp O’Donnell prison camp.

At least 600 Americans and more than 10,000 Filipinos died from disease, starvation or dehydration or were killed when they attempted to get water or fell behind.

The Jackferts compiled maps, photos and written accounts from POWs for the museum’s first display, which was housed in a cherry wood cabinet provided by the Friends of the Brooke County Library.

Jackfert and others – including Wallace’s husband, George, who became editor of the ADBC’s newsletter – solicited additional contributions, including photos and written accounts, from POWs throughout the U.S.

It has since become the largest repository of such items, and Wallace and others hope one day to display all of them in a separate building.

Also on hand to pay tribute to Jackfert were Greg Cheeks, acting vice president of the newly formed Northern Panhandle chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Association, who thanked him for his service.

With tears in his eyes, Checks said, “The 16 million who served in World War II made it possible for us to be here today.”

Jane Kraina, the museum’s former coordinator, said, “Brooke County should be very proud to have this museum in their midst.”

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)