Coast Guard Assists Japanese Delegation in Locating WWII Mass Graves

KODIAK, Alaska – The Coast Guard assisted a small team of Japanese and U.S. specialists who visited Attu Island July 11-14 in search of information which led to the identification of several mass grave sites and remains believed to be those of missing Japanese soldiers.The team of five Japanese and three Americans embarked on a four day mission with support from the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The team investigated potential loss or burial sites where the remains of Japanese soldiers were likely to be found. A Coast Guardsman located two left shoes, one that contained several bones, and a piece of leather equipment.

The team’s findings will be evaluated by the U.S. and Japanese governments to determine if follow-on excavations are called for.

A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane from Air Station Kodiak transported the team to and from the remote island. While visiting the island, the team stayed at Coast Guard Loran Station Attu, a long range navigation station. Several Coast Guardsmen from the station volunteered to assist in digging at the grave sites and with transportation around the island.

A representative form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accompanied the team to oversee its environmental impact. Attu Island is under the management and protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which administers the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. At the end of Alaska’s Aleutian island chain, Attu is the westernmost point of land of the United States.

In June 1942, a unit of the Japanese Army occupied Attu, capturing and imprisoning many of its inhabitants. U.S. forces began action to recapture the small island in May 1943, where fierce hand-to-hand battles led to about 540 American and 2,300 Japanese deaths. It was the site of the only land battle in WWII in North America.

Shortly after the war, 235 sets of Japanese remains were recovered on Attu by U.S. forces and reburied at Ft. Richardson, near Anchorage, Alaska. The Japanese later disinterred those remains, cremated them as part of a religious ceremony and reburied them at the same location.

The Japanese government assisted U.S. investigators last month in a visit to Iwo Jima in search of information related to American WWII MIAs.

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