San Francisco unveils memorial to WWII “comfort women”

Tens of thousands of Asian women were abducted and forced to work in military Japanese brothels during World War II.

Former World War II "comfort woman" Yongsoo Lee, 89, of South Korea, gestures while speaking before the unveiling of the "Comfort Women" monument Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in San Francisco. The monument was dedicated to the young women victims of Japanese military sexual slavery from 1932 until the end of World War II in 1945. In the background are retired judges Julie Tang, left, and Lillian Sing, right. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Former World War II "comfort woman" Yongsoo Lee, 89, of South Korea, gestures while speaking before the unveiling of the "Comfort Women" monument Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in San Francisco. The monument was dedicated to the young women victims of Japanese military sexual slavery from 1932 until the end of World War II in 1945. In the background are retired judges Julie Tang, left, and Lillian Sing, right. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Now 89, former World War II “comfort woman” Yongsoo Lee clutched a microphone in one hand Friday in a park outside San Francisco’s Chinatown, thrust her other clinched fist in the air, and made a vow.

Lee, abducted from her Korean homeland at 15 and forced into working in brothels servicing Japanese soldiers, was speaking at the dedication of the latest of dozens of statues put up around the world, commemorating the ordeal of thousands of women like her in territory held by the Japanese army before and during World War II.

Japan has not gone far enough in apologizing, and the statues memorializing those the Japanese army called “comfort women” for their soldiers will keep going up, Lee, her frame bent in traditional green and pink Korean robes, told the scores at Friday’s unveiling ceremony.

“And at the end, we will have a memorial in Tokyo. So they can say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ when they pass by,” said Lee, who came from South Korea for Friday’s ceremony, as she has for at least four other such dedications in the United States alone.

Historians say tens of thousands of women, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, were seized in Asian territories under Japanese military control and made to work in military brothels. The issue has remained an open rift between Japan and other Asian nations. Surviving comfort-women and their supporters rejected a 2015 statement from Japan expressing “apologies and remorse,” saying it did not go far enough in acknowledging what they say was the Japanese government’s responsibility.

“If Japan does not like” the continued focus on comfort women, Lee told the crowd, through a translator, “Japan must apologize.”

On Friday, the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers, meeting in New York, agreed to work together to resolve their countries’ lingering differences over the episode, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

No more than a few dozen of the comfort women remain alive, said retired San Francisco Judge Lillian Sing, who was a leader in the effort by California’s Korean, Chinese and Filipino communities to commission and put up the statue, in a park on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

“What these grandmas did was change the way the world looked at sex -trafficking,” Sing told the state and local dignitaries and others in the audience.