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Marshall isle erosion exposes bones of possible Japanese war dead

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« on: July 30, 2014, 08:35:22 pm »

Marshall isle erosion exposes bones of possible Japanese war dead

The Yomiuri Shimbun

12:47 am, July 29, 2014

The Yomiuri Shimbun Human bones exposed when an extra-high tide in spring this year washed large amounts of sand from an atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean may belong to Japanese soldiers killed during World War II.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is dispatching a team to the site next month to investigate whether the bones are from soldiers of the former Imperial Japanese Army.

The Marshall Islands have been experiencing coastal erosion due to rising sea levels for some time, and the latest discovery is believed to be one result of this phenomenon.

The opportunity to repatriate the remains of soldiers who fell in faraway lands could be an unexpected consequence of climate change.

Bullets also found

The bones were discovered on Kwajalein Atoll, which lies about 450 kilometers northwest of the capital Manjuro, according to the Marshall Islands Internal Affairs Ministry.

The atoll was the site of fierce fighting between Japanese and U.S. forces in early 1944, which resulted in the defeat of the Japanese garrison.

To date, eight bones of fallen soldiers have been found on the atoll, so it is likely others remain buried.

Michael Terlep, chief archaeologist at the Marshall Islands Historic Preservation Office, said a joint examination of the bones with the U.S. government identified them as having Asian characteristics.

Bullets and other Japanese military items were found together with the bones, and the style of burial differed from that used by local islanders, so it is possible the bones are those of Japanese soldiers, he said.

Terlep added that ariel photographs of the island taken since 1944 have shown marked changes in the coastline, particularly starting in 2009.

Areas that were covered in greenery have changed to sand due to erosion by the sea, which is gradually shrinking the island, he said. The sandy area where the burial site lies was also apparently formerly covered in greenery.

About 50,000 people live on the many atolls that comprise the Marshall Islands. The islands fell under Japanese administration in 1920. After World War II, they were governed by the United States as part of a trusteeship. Now an independent nation, the islands still rely on the United States for security and defense.

Bikini Atoll and other areas were subjected to U.S. nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

About 20,000 Japanese soldiers died on the Marshall Islands or in the surrounding seas during the war, according to the welfare ministry. About 3,000 bones have been recovered to date.

In its investigation, the welfare ministry plans to make a comprehensive examination of aspects including physique, military materials from the time and items left behind. If the bones are confirmed to be those of Japanese people, they are to be repatriated.

Rising seas, spreading damage

Damage from spring tides in the Marshall Islands has been spreading in recent years.

Some homes on the coast have been flooded, which has at times forced residents to evacuate to schools or other places. The average elevation of the Marshall Islands is just two meters, making it especially vulnerable to the effects of rising sea levels. Rising ocean temperatures from global warming expand the volume of seawater, which is also thought to contribute to rising sea levels.

A U.N. report issued in March said sea levels in the western Pacific Ocean, which is home to many island countries, rose about 12 millimeters per year from 1993 to 2009, about four times as fast as the global average.

Marshall Islands Foreign Affairs Minister Tony deBrum told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the discovery of the bones was a visible sign of the disappearance of the islands, saying the sleep of those who were killed was being disturbed by climate change.

Many members of an association of bereaved families of the war dead in the Marshal Islands lost family members or relatives on Kwajalein Atoll, said Makoto Kurokawa, head of the association.

Kurokawa himself lost his younger brother, who was 23 years old at the time. “If my younger brother’s bones were found, I’d want to bring them back to Japan, even if I had to go there alone,” he said.
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