Monday, June 20, 2005


Plan to retrieve war dead from navy ship hits snag


Daily Yomiuri
By Kei Okumura
June 18, 2005

A government investigation into the feasibility of retrieving the remains of war dead from an Imperial Japanese Navy transport ship that went down off Palau in the South Pacific has ended without the existence of any remains being confirmed.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry conducted a study between June 4 and 7 to determine whether it would be possible to recover the remains of the crew of the Iro, which sunk in waters about 40 meters deep in March 1944.
The study was prompted by a petition by 86-year-old former sailor Tomimatsu Ishikawa of Kuwana, Mie Prefecture, and other parties.

It was the first move by the government to reclaim war dead since 1995, when it retrieved remains from the Truk Islands in Micronesia.

According to ministry records, 39 of the Iro's complement of 222 went down with the ship.
"There are many more of my friends down there," Ishikawa said.

But the ministry study hit a snag when it was discovered that the Iro's engine room, where many of the remains were expected to be found, is buried under several meters of silt.

"It looks like the operation would be very difficult because the situation is much worse than we had imagined," said Yoji Kakihara, an assistant policy chief at the ministry.

At the Truk Islands, the government retrieved the remains of 426 war dead in three diving operations, but the Iro probe has shown it is likely the operation will not progress any further.

The retrieval of the remains of those killed during the period from the Sino-Japanese War through the Pacific theater of World War II began in Okinawa Prefecture and overseas in 1951, when the government started collecting the bodies of its ground forces.

In 1952, retrieval of navy dead began. However, of the 2.4 million recorded war dead, only 1.24 million have been brought back to Japan.

This is in part because of continued resentment toward Japan at some sites, such as China, and body retrieval remains a difficult operation.

Only 1,900 of the estimated 300,000 remains of naval personnel have been recovered from their maritime resting places. The reasons for this low recovery rate includes religious objections that the remains not to be removed, and political ones by countries that see naval wrecks as cultural assets. In addition, a ministry official pointed out, "There was a belief in the former Imperial Navy that the 'sea is the final resting place,' so we shouldn't remove the bodies."

The Ministry's policy is to remove the remains if the water is shallow and the remains endanger sport divers, or if there is concern that the dignity of the war dead is somehow threatened.

Three-hundred thousand U.S. sailors died during the Pacific War. Of those, 57,000 died at sea--far fewer than the number of their Japanese counterparts who lost their lives. Yet, the United States has a team dedicated to the retrieval of its war dead that continues to bring its fallen heroes home.

"I understand the difficulty in recovering the bodies [of naval personnel] compared with those ground troops, but just leaving them there [at the bottom of the ocean] isn't good enough," said Yoshihiko Terashima, chairman of an organization for Japanese war dead in the Philippines.

Koichi Tsubomoto, a 68-year-old underwater cameraman who films wartime wrecks, said, "Just by my own experience, there are 100 locations where wreckage lies just below the surface."

Retrieving bodies is not just dangerous, it also requires funding. But we should not allow such investigations to stall because of this. The government should continue to collect information on the country's lost soldiers.


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