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Jackfert remembered for raising awareness, promoting peace

WELLSBURG — As founder of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum and Education Center, Ed Jackfert sought to educate everyone about the atrocities experienced by participants of the Bataan Death March and others captured by the Japanese during World War II and to encourage nations to work for peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Graveside services for Jackfert, who died on July 24 at the age of 98, were scheduled for this weekend.

Mary Kay Wallace, former director of the Brooke County Public Library, where the museum is located, recalled Jackfert and his wife, Henrietta, approaching her in 2002 about establishing an exhibit there relating the experiences of about 72,000 American servicemen and Filippino scouts who had been captured by the Japanese and forced to walk 65 miles in grueling heat to a railroad station where they were loaded into stifling boxcars bound for prisoner of war camps.

More than 10,000 died from disease, starvation or dehydration or were killed when they attempted to get water or fell behind.

Wallace noted the troops had fought against Japanese invaders of the Philippine Islands for three months. Struggling with diminished supplies and food, many were starved and weakened when they were captured, she said.

“Eddie wanted the heroic efforts of these Americans and Fillipinos to be remembered,” Wallace said, noting it was a part of history not included in many textbooks.

Jackfert wasn’t in the Bataan Death March but was among Army Air Corps members captured by the Japanese on the island of Mindanao on May 10, 1942. He had been serving in the 28th Bomb Squadron at Clark Field when it was attacked by the Japanese on Dec. 8, 1941, just a day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Richard Lizza, a retired college professor who heads the museum board, said Jackfert spoke about being transported with other POWs aboard one of the Japanese’s notorious “Hell ships.”

Jackfert related that not only were the ship’s conditions inhumane, they weren’t marked as POW transports, as prescribed by the Geneva Convention, so Allied forces often unknowingly fired upon them.

Lizza said Jackfert told of being in the ship’s cargo hold and hearing torpedoes approach from outside but missing their target.

“He talked about how lucky he was to have escaped that,” he said.

Lizza added Jackfert also recalled many fellow POWs were killed one night when Allied aircraft bombed their camp, which also was unmarked.

Lizza said for many years Jackfert was understandably resentful of the treatment the POWs received at the hands of the Japanese but, over time, the focus of his indignation became war itself.

“Ed’s attitude toward the Japanese was a lot more bitter in the past and toward the end, he was saying, no one wins a war,” he said.

Jim Brockman, the museum’s executive director, agreed, saying, “He was very adamant that everybody understand that war doesn’t solve anything.”

He and others noted that as commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a national group of veterans who had served on the two Philippine Islands, he led efforts to seek a formal apology from the Japanese government.

Jackfert noted not only did tens of thousands of POWs suffer from disease, deyhdration and malnutrition, they were forced to work for Japanese companies involved in the war effort that ultimately benefited from their slave labor.

He was deeply disappointed that U.S. officials waived reparations for the POWs in their treaty with Japan, a move he blamed on their desire to recruit the Asian nation as an ally against Korea.

Lizza said sadly, Jackfert and others weren’t able to secure compensation for the many health problems the POWs endured years after their imprisonment.

But their efforts did result in Ichiro Fujisaki, Japanese ambassador to the U.S., attending the final reunion of the ABDC to issue a formal apology on behalf of his government.

Lizza noted representatives of Mitsubishi Materials Corp. visited the museum in 2015 to deliver their own apology and present a surprise donation of $50,000 to the museum.

Wallace noted the museum had grown from the cherrywood case containing photos, maps and written recollections of POWs compiled by the Jackferts to hundreds of artifacts donated by fellow members of the ADBC and others.

With that growth and a website for the museum came many more visitors, including film crews from TV Osaka, a major Japanese television network; the Washington, D.C., office of the Japanese public broadcasting network; and faculty and students from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.

Jackfert had accepted an invitation in 2010 to speak to students in Japan, where he learned many people there hadn’t been told about the mistreatment of the POWs.

Brockman said Jackfert encouraged him to tell him whenever a group of students was visiting the museum so he could speak to them personally.

“They would just sit there in awe and just listen,” he said.

In 2017 the Hubbard and Meriwether families collectively donated $500,000 for an expansion to the library and museum, allowing the latter to display many items that had been kept in storage.

Jackfert was joined at the groundbreaking by Chris Abraham, widow of Abie Abraham, and Joseph Vater Jr., son of Joseph Vater Sr. Abraham, a veteran who wrote about his experiences helping to recover those killed in the death march, and Vater, former editor of the ADBC’s newsletter, had been strong supporters and contributors to the museum.

“He was very excited when we told him about the addition,” said Brockman.

Wallace noted that after he was liberated from the POW camp where he spent three and a half years, Jackfert returned to the U.S. and earned a degree in economics at Bethany College.

He went on to work for more than 25 years as a criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service, receiving many commendations for his part in uncovering and prosecuting organized crime leaders and corrupt public officials.

While an often overlooked chapter of Jackfert’s life, that career was noted when Wellsburg officials honored him on Aug. 23, 2014, which they named Ed Jackfert Day.

The Brooke County commissioners recently lamented his death, with Commission President Tim Ennis calling him “an absolute hero” for his service to his country and efforts with the museum.

Wallace said while Jackfert “was small in frame, he was a giant to me and always will be.”

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