US clues reveal Japan war graves in Palau

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In the Fall of 1944, U.S. Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army struggled over Peleliu in the Battle of Peleliu.  U.S. Navy photo
In the Fall of 1944, U.S. Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army struggled over Peleliu in the Battle of Peleliu. U.S. Navy photo

US clues reveal Japan war graves in Palau

by: . | .
The Japan News | .
published: February 17, 2015

TOKYO — A cemetery for Japanese soldiers is highly likely to have been established by the U.S. military on the western Pacific island of Peleliu, where about 10,200 Japanese soldiers died in a fierce battle with U.S. troops during World War II, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Several documents showing the existence of a mass grave for Japanese soldiers have been found at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in California, according to sources. Of the Japanese soldiers who died on the island during the battle, which lasted from September to November 1944, the remains of about 2,600 soldiers have yet to be found.

The discovery of the documents may facilitate efforts to collect the remains of Japanese soldiers on the island.

Peleliu Island is now part of Palau, so the Japanese government intends to seek the Palau government's cooperation in locating the cemetery, the sources said.

While some bereaved families of the Japanese war dead have referred to the possibility of the cemetery's existence, this is the first confirmation of documents indicating the cemetery's location.

The Emperor and Empress are to visit Peleliu Island on April 9 to pay homage to the war dead and leave floral tributes for them. About 1,600 U.S. soldiers were also killed in the battle.

The government has collected remains of Japanese soldiers from caves in which they hid from the enemy, working from statements by survivors of the war and other evidence.

The map indicating the cemetery's location was found by writers in the United States and others in October 2013. The Yomiuri Shimbun obtained the map and related documents from the museum in October last year.

"Japanese Cemetery" is written in the center of the island on the map, which was created in Jan. 11, 1945. A U.S. Naval Construction Battalion report dated Jan. 29, 1945, states that U.S. forces had completed work to place logs on the site so the cemetery would not be disturbed by people walking over it.

Another report on operations by the U.S. Marine Corps dated Dec. 12, 1944, says that a decent burial should be provided for Japanese officers Maj. Gen. Gonjiro Murai and Col. Kunio Nakagawa, who both committed suicide. The U.S. Army's operational reports also include a photograph that shows a sign reading "Japanese Cemetery" and grave markers for Nakagawa and Murai.

According to the Peleliu State government sources, it received information from the U.S. government in 1994 that said the remains of Japanese soldiers were buried by bulldozers near Nakagawa's grave.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which also has obtained the map and other documents, is preparing to start research to locate the cemetery.

When Palau President Thomas Remengesau visited Japan in December last year, he told The Yomiuri Shimbun that his country will grant permission for Japan to research possible locations to recover the remains of Japanese war dead.

Peleliu Island stretches about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from south to north and about three kilometers (1.8 miles) from east to west, and is located about 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) south of Japan in the Pacific Ocean. Peleliu is now part of Palau. Japan occupied Palau in 1914 and administered the island from 1920.

More than 40,000 U.S. soldiers landed on the island from Sept. 15, 1944, and fought about 10,000 Japanese soldiers who had set up bases in caves and elsewhere. Despite the U.S. plan to force the Japanese side to surrender in a few days, fighting continued until Nov. 24 due to the Japanese army's systematic battle tactics. About 450 Japanese soldiers are said to have survived the battle.

(c) 2015, The Yomiuri Shimbun.