POWs Seek Justice From Japan

The medals and mementos are half a century old. Former prisoner of war Alvin Silver keeps them around so the memories don't fade, reports CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman.

"Just to keep my hatred fresh. I didn't ever want to let it die," Silver said.

Silver was a 21-year-old sergeant when the Japanese captured him in 1942.

"They beat you, they punched you, they spit on you," he remembers.

For 44 months he was held prisoner. He says he lived on a handful of rice a day and worked as a slave laborer for Japanese industry.

"They treated us as animals. That has got to be responded to for me to be satisfied," Singer said.

The Japanese in World War II captured more than 30,000 Americans. More than a third of them died. Like Alvin Silver, many worked as slave laborers.

Ever since the war, the former POWs have been trying to get an apology from Japan and compensation from the companies they were forced to work for. They were told repeatedly that the matter was settled in treaties signed shortly after the war.

"The world forgot them, the United States forgot them," said attorney Eli Warach.

Warach has filed a class action suit on behalf of 500 POWs against the American operations of five Japanese companies, seeking billions of dollars in damages.

"The companies that performed these atrocities are still these companies in many shapes and forms. And it all funnels right back to these five companies named in Japan," Warach said.

The companies are well known. Those that have spoken about the case insist it wasn't them -- it must have been other companies during the war with the same name.

"We are looking at it very seriously and we want to find out what happened and we want to find out whether we have any responsibility or not," said James Brumm of Mitsubishi International Corporation.

Alvin Silver knows that legal efforts by other Japanese POWs have failed, but he is hoping this one can be resolved.

"They can give us the moral satisfaction by saying, 'Sorry now, we did, and we apologize.' That would be worth a lot. I could close my eyes and die peacefully knowing that I got that. But until then I am going to be very, very angry with them," Silver said.

As each year passes, there are fewer survivors alive. It is now a matter of tending to an old wound that has never had a chance to heal.