LOS ANGELES — Saying they felt a "deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy," executives from a major Japanese corporation gave an unprecedented apology Sunday to a 94-year-old U.S. prisoner of war for using American POWs for forced labor during World War II.
At the solemn ceremony hosted by the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, James Murphy of Santa Maria, California, accepted the apology he had sought for 70 years on behalf of U.S. POWs from executives of Mitsubishi Materials Corp.
Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer for Mitsubishi Materials Corp., 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 toiled in Mitsubishi copper mines and is one of the few left alive to accept such an apology, called it sincere, humble and revealing.
"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."
Murphy stood and shook hands with Kimura and others as cameras clicked throughout the museum theater, with giant American and Japanese flags projected side-by-side behind them.
Other POWs subjected to forced labor sat in the audience along with many members of Murphy's family.
Stanley Gibson, whose late father worked alongside Murphy in the mines, flew 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.
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.
About 12,000 American prisoners were shipped to Japan and forced to work at more than 50 sites to support imperial Japan's war effort, and about 10 percent died, said Kinue Tokudome, director of the U.S.-Japan Dialogue on POWs, who has spearheaded the lobbying effort for companies to apologize.