Soto Dam POWs Remembered by CFAS and Sasebo

Soto Dam, a vital source of water for Sasebo, cost more than money to build. On May 30, members of the U.S. Navy and Japanese community of Sasebo came together to remember those who lost their lives in its construction.

Capt. Matthew Ovios, CFAS commanding officer, spoke at the memorial ceremony which marks the 61st anniversary of the Soto Dam memorial tower, built by Sasebo in 1944.

SASEBO, Japan (May 30, 2017) Members of the Navy League, Kyushu Retired Military Association and Sasebo community leaders laid wreaths and flowers at the Soto Dam memorial May 30, 2017. The annual memorial ceremony is held for the 53 American POWS and 14 Japanese who died building Soto Dam during World War II. Sasebo erected the memorial for both American and Japanese dead in 1956. (U.S. Navy photo by Mineman 3rd Class Zachary S. Horvath/Released)

“It would have been easy to forget and let nature and time erase the wounds and with them, the memories of this dam’s origins,” said Ovios. “Instead the citizens of Sasebo chose to remember, doing their best at the time to recognize all those who died here.”

After Ovios spoke, members of CFAS CPO 365 read the names of the 53 Americans and 14 Japanese who died in the dam’s construction with a bell rung after each name. The ceremony was put on by members of the CFAS Chief Petty Officers Association and CPO 365. The Kyushu Retired Military Association, Navy League and Sasebo community leaders were also in attendance and laid wreaths.

Soto Dam was constructed to alleviate the Japanese Navy’s problem of a limited fresh water supply. POWs were used to fill manpower gaps and as “guests of the emperor” their treatment and even survival were irrelevant to completing the task.

The POWs were divided into 20-22 man squads and worked in the rock quarry and in cement mixing. Within a month, the first POW died. The dead were buried by their fellow POWs on a hillside near the dam and usually were allowed to conduct a small funeral service. Their bodies were repatriated to the U.S. around 1949.