As a tank officer in the Pacific Theater in World War II, Lester Tenney fought the Japanese in the Philippines before being taken as a prisoner of war in 1942 and forced to participate, along with 78,000 other soldiers, in the 85-mile trek that has since become known as the Bataan Death March. Having written a book about his unlikely survival, Lester’s primary cause has long been the Japanese government’s recognition of, and apology for, the suffering experienced by prisoners of war.
In 2009, the Japanese government agreed to sponsor a group of former prisoners of war for an apology and tour of the country. The only problem: Lester’s heart was giving out. Lester was having chest pain and couldn’t catch his breath. A major valve in his heart had started to narrow and harden, which often happens to older patients. Lester was 90 and had already undergone triple bypass surgery twenty years prior, so doctors didn’t think he could survive another open-heart operation. Lester didn’t have to.
Thanks to advances in medical technology, a new collapsible valve replacement that was small enough to fit inside a catheter and snake up an artery or through a small cut between the ribs was being tested in a clinical trial. Lester had a transcatheter valve replacement in the spring of 2010 and was discharged less than a week later.
Most importantly, that fall, Lester traveled to Japan with a group of six veterans, who met with parliament, dined with Ambassador Roos, and, in an incredibly important victory, received a formal apology from Japan’s foreign minister.